At the graciousness of Hahn Family Wines, a group of bloggers got together and planted The Bloggers Block, at Hahn Family Winery in the Santa Lucia Highlands. The good folks at Hahn dedicated 1.5 acres of prime Santa Lucia Highlands land to the Bloggers Block, proving themselves as a shining light in the dark path of new media adoption in the wine business.
Soledad is about 2.5 hours south of San Francisco, so I got myself up nice and early on a Saturday and heaviliy caffinated myself. I stopped by to pick up a Winehiker (no no not a HITCHhiker!) and we hightailed it down 101, through the rolling hills of San Benito County, and through the lettuce fields of Salinas. As we drove through the flatlands of the Salinas valley, I was struck with how litlte it has changed since East of Eden.
The cool foggy overcast was driving inland, and I wasn’t entirely convinced we’d have sunshine for our day in the vineyards. Finally, as we popped in to the Santa Lucia Highlands, the sun came out. Past veggie farms and up to the west side of the valley, we found the Hahn driveway and slowly drove up the hill. Every few feet I had to stop and say “ohhh lookie!” because it was so stunning. Finally, at the top of the hill, we found a little yellow house at the top of a vineyard, which is now the tasting room. Being the first to arrive, we stopped to breathe the fresh air and look at the view before being enthusiastically greeted by Philip Woodrow, Hahn Family Wines Director of Marketing and Communications.
Philip has only been in this role for a few months, but he has taken it on with a gusto and has made blogger a welcome and integral part of the Hahn family. Once inside the tasting room, Philip pointed out our snack of Huntington Sauvignon Blanc, one of my personal faves, and Hahn SLH Chardonay, paired with some lovely cheese and nibbles. We waited for our posse to arrive, Russ and I chatted with Andy Mitchell (Director Vineyard Operations) and Paul Clifton (adorable winemaker at Hahn Estates), as well as Philip.
From there, we went down to the Bloggers Block, which is at 720 feet, and we were planting some delicious Pinot Noir, clone 828. We even got the exact location of the block, so we can keep track of it on Google Earth! Yes, we are geeks. You can keep track too, with the flyover file here. In the dirt, the vineyard manager explained to us that the vines we were planting were on 3309C rootstock. We were given specific instructions to dig our holes 12 inches deep, where we would then drop a nutrient teabag in the bottom, and stick our vines in – with about 4 fingers left above ground. Luckily for us, the nice boys had pre-dug our holes, so we really didn’t have to work that hard ;-).
After we filled the holes back in, we had to protect our babies from critters, birds, and other elements, by covered it with what looks like a fancy milk carton, which we twist tied to the stakes to hold them down. Once all the vines were planted, the drip irrigation turned on, and we could see the vines relax in to their new homes.
After we played gardner, we gathered for a lunch under the trees near the tasting room, and enjoyed the full lineup of Hahn wines. I’d have to say, th
e 2006 SLH Syrah was amazing, as were the Lucienne Pinot Noirs. Given the price point for all of these wines, they really are excellent QPR. At lunch, we
had the chance to talk to other bloggers, and pick the brains of the Hahn folks about the wines and our block in particular. After lunch, we headed up to the winery itself to take a tour and learn about the winemaking process. There, we got to taste some barrel samples of the finished Lucienne that were able to drink with our lunch.
All in all, a totally awesome day! In a nutshell, Hahn gets it. They understand the importance of bloggers and how they can make themselves stand out from the crowd. In the words of Hahn’s President William Leigon,
I believe that the blogging community is a vital part of the future of the industry. In the many debates of what is or isn’t ethical in regards to the winery/wine blogger relationship what seems clear to me is that the best, most ethical thing we as a winery can do is provide the blogging community with quality products, quality information and quality wine experiences regardless of race, sex, color, creed or brand of wine. We are using our vineyards because that’s who we are. I believe that the more the blogging community learns about wine, the better it is for all of us.
It is a vital connection; just like the winery/wine writer connection; the winery/wine buyer connection; and of course the winery/consumer connection. It does us no good to create great wines if no one knows about it. I just can’t drink that much. The wine business is a relationship business. We must create an emotional connection to our consumers. We do that through many means and I believe Social Media is a major part of creating that connection.
The internet and Social Media allow you to do that only it accelerates the number of people you can reach to a degree that I can’t even comprehend. It allows me to establish a relationship and an emotional connection to someone in Germany that I have never met face to face. It allows me to create connections with multiple people in multiple countries simultaneously and in a very personal way.
As you can see, Liza and I were very happy campers.
This past Sunday, I was fortunate enough to have my Luscious Lush self and my big mouth invited to a blogger panel discussion, hosted by Lisa de Bruin (@winedivergirl) of Hahn Estates. At this discussion were several fellow bloggers and industry folks, as well as a large contingent of the Hahn team, who were on hand to discuss their wines as well as how they can more effectively interact with us wine blogger types.
- JJ Bagley and Alan Kropf of Mutineer Magazine
- Laura Wagren of 1000 Corks
- Xandria & Liza of The Brix Chicks (@lorzandra & @brixchick_liza)
- Ward Kadel of WineLog (@drxeno)
- Shana Ray of Shana; not out on VHS yet (@sharayray)
- Chris Butts of the The Kilted Blog (@chrisbutts)
- Sam Ackman of 1000 Corks
- Chris Oggenfuss of Vintuba (@vintuba)
- Russ Beebe of California Wine Hikes (@winehiker)
- Jeff Stai, Owner Twisted Oak Winery and winery blogger on El Bloggo Torcido (@eljefetwisted)
- Judd Wallenbrock of Humanitas Wines and Michel-Schlumberger, winery blogger of Drink Charitably (@humanitas)
From Hahn, we had:
- Andy Mitchell, Director of Vineyard Operations
- Adam Lazarre, Winemaker
- Bill Leigon, President
- Evelyn Pool, VP of Marketing
- Lisa Adams Walter, PR (@lisaadamswalter)
- and of course, our illustrious hostess herself – Lisa de Bruin, Director of New Media Marketing (@winedivergirl)
This event was envisioned by Lisa de Bruin, with a lot of input from various bloggers and industry folks, as an opportunity to open the dialogue between wineries and bloggers. This has been something of a challenge in recent weeks, and has incited some rioting (friendly fire only!). Before the lively discussion started, however, we were treated to a tasting of some of the Bin 36 and Lucienne offerings. Below are my notes from my favorites:
Rich ruby color. Rich without being sweet or overdone. Black cherry, earth. Strawberry fruit rollup, cherry and plum. Tastes slightly salty.
The Lone Oak Vineyard is in an area of the Santa Lucia Highlands that produces world
class pinot noir. Case in point, Lone Oak actually sits between Gary’s Vineyard and Rosellas Vineyard, which are both well known in pinot circles for producing some cult pinot noirs.
We also tasted the 2006 Lucienne Pinot Noir, Doctors Vineyard
This had a much chewier mouth feel, with black raspberry and Bing cherries, followed by plums and earthy spice flavors.
I enjoyed both of these pinots very much, and would say that for drinking along, Doctors is a great choice. If you are pairing with food, I would suggest the Lone Oak.
This event was just getting under way after the wine was poured. With our minds flowing freely, the discussion began as to how wineries, other industry professionals, and bloggers can work together.
First, let’s face it. Bloggers are a rowdy and diverse bunch. NO two wine blogs really have the same goal, and no two wine blogs are the same. Personally, I write my blog because I like to share. It started as a newsletter of events and wines that I was enjoying, and evolved from there. I choose to write about wines & things that I find inspiring. I choose not to write about every forgettable wine that I taste, because I don’t have that much time in my life. But that is me. Your wine blog might be different, and that’s OK! The point of the blogger community is that we all have our passions. Our readers come to our blogs for information, and for different reasons. I read over 100 wine blogs – not every day, but in general – and each one adds value for a different reason.
- Sonadora, the Wannabe Wino, gives me insight in to her favorite wines and her travels through wine country
- Lisa de Bruin, from California Wine Life and Hahn Estates, gives me a unique perspective on issues in the industry as well as her adventures diving and enjoying wine.
- The Brix Chicks let me peek vicariously in to their world as they pursue their WSET certificates and taste things locally.
- Michael Wangblicker of Caveman Wines writes about shaping the wine blogging industry, and gives me great tips and tricks to improve my own writing.
Each blog is different, each blog is great. The uniqueness of the blogging industry is what makes it magical.
In recent news, traditional media outlets such as the Chicago Tribune have filed for bankruptcy. As we move towards the next decade, old school traditional media methods are being surpassed by new methods, such as online media and blogging. As Lisa put it “the shift of influence in the wine world from old print media to new on-line media, especially in the form of blogs with character, variety and accessibility to the variety of wine lovers out there is essential to the success of a growing wine industry.” I could not agree more. The next generation of wine drinker is so attached to the web, they are avoiding brick and mortar establishments.
There has been a lot of discussion about where the line is drawn in terms of bloggers and wineries. I question this, as traditional media outlets get wined and dined and showered with gifts all the time. I’m not sure why we should be held to a higher standard, just because we are innovative and new. That being said, if we are clearly writing about a “sample”, as disclosed in our blogs, are we not covering our own asses enough? Food for thought.
Since I personally, only write about wines and events that are important to me, I am aware that I am giving positive publicity to those wineries / events. SO what? How is this different than me saying to my friends, “I had a great wine last night you should try it”? Word of mouth marketing has been, and will continue to be, the most powerful sales tool in the retail world. The only different that we, as wine bloggers have, is that we are communicating to a wider audience en masse.
I hope that these conversations will continue, and would love to see winery hosted blogger panels more frequently, across the US. One question that came up during our conversation with Hahn was about this being “Hahn Fest” of sorts. While there was a certain portion of that, I see that as being somewhat obvious, since it was a hosted event. However, if more wineries like Twisted Oak, participate and pour their wines in a convivial and social setting, the appearance of this can be changed. Again, I didn’t see this as an issue because it was clear before we went that we were attending a hosted event, with a panel of Hahn employees.
That’s what I think. What do YOU think?
Last Saturday, a group of bloggers and I got together to participate in Twitter Taste Live, Bloggers Take Over. Twitter Taste Live is an opportunity for Tweeple (or Twits as I prefer to call them) to taste the same wines at the same time, and Tweet (or blog or video) about them communally. This is a chance for a larger community to taste collectively, regardless of their physical location.
For this TTL, we had the opportunity to pick our own wines. As most of us had gone to the Wine Bloggers Conference, we were lucky enough to have blogger samples of Hahn Estates wines to taste. Since this was a Blogger’s Chocie TTL, I thought that it was a great opportunity to pool our samples and get together as a group to taste. There were four bloggers, a hapless victim, and a lot of wine! Joining me in our mad adventure were The Brix Chicks, Liza & Xandria, DrXeno of WineLog, and James, a friend who I managed to convince to join Twitter for the occasion. If you haven’t followed these guys on Twitter, go ahead! It’s fun!
The Hahn Estates wine company has several brands. One of my personal favorites is Huntington Wine Cellars, part of the Front Street Five (or is it 6 now?) on the south side of Healdsburg. For this tasting, we were given blogger samples of the Hahn Estates and Hahn SLH lines, and we were happy to taste through and provided our feedback. Also participating in our tasting were Russ, the Winehiker
- 2007 SLH Santa Lucia Highlands Pinot Gris – lemonade, refreshing. Tons of citrus and tropical fruit. Nice round mouthfeel, not super crisp, nicely balanced with some creaminess and flavors of pinkgrapefruit. B+
- 2006 SLH Santa Lucia Highlands Chardonnay – Meyer lemon, tangerine, spicy oak. Very spicy, tastes overdone on the oak. Lemon curd, maybe custard? C+ It’s too spicy and oaky for my taste in Chardonnay.
- 2006 Monterey Pinot Noir – Mushrooms, bark, forest floor. very earthy spice pinot with a lot of evergreen…ceder? Lots of baking spice and cloves on the pinot, but has a finish that is a bit bitter and not very long. B
- 2006 Central Coast Meritage – Very nice dusty cabernet nose. Very fruity, a lot of plum & blackberry on the front palate. Long cab franc finish, but not very deep, with hints of plum tarte. Blend is 33% Merlot, 30% Cab Sav, 19% Pet Verdot, 11% cab franc, 7% malbec. Not very interesting but great value at $10.99. C+
- 2006 SLH Santa Lucia Highlands Syrah – This is a deep dark brooding man. Lots of dusy blackberry on the nose. Tons of chocolate on the palate with blackberry pie and ripe plums. Definately a cool climate syrah that tickles my nose with white pepper and numbs my tounge with clove flavors. It opens up nicely to have big juicy notes of black and blue fruits, black raspberries, loganberries, with a sprinkling of cloves & allspice. I love this syrah. It’s very spicy, but would go well with red meat. I don’t eat red meat but well you know what I mean. A-
- 2006 Central Coast Cabernet Sauvignon – spicy nose & palate. Very fruity, a bit boring. Very dry finish on the cab, not really my style. C
My overwhelming impressing is that these wines are very spicy. for the most part that is a good thing, but it overwhelms the cabernet, and disguises some of the more subtle flavors. Is this a central coast / Monterey thing? I don’t know. It hink this calls for some more tasting to determine! My fFavorites of the night were the 2006 Monterey Pinot Noir and the 2006 SLH Santa Lucia Highlands Syrah.
There were of course, special guest stars later in the evening, but that is another story for another time.
Stay tuned, the next Twitter Taste Live is TOMORROW November 21st! Your mission, should you decide to accept it, is to find a wine made as closely to you as possible, drink and tweet. While many of you may seek out grapes that are sourced nearby, us urban dwellers are lucky enough to find urban wineries nearby. I am either going to have a Syrah produced at Crushpad, or something from a micro winery in the urban jungles of the East Bay.