Roundtables conjure images of high ideals, swords raised in pledge and lots of chain mail. Some of those characteristics from the ‘old days’ remain remarkably similar to ours today.

We do have high ideals and expectations in the conduct of our members. (“What happens around the round table stays at the round table!”) We raise filled wine glasses instead of raising swords. Our wardrobes at the table can vary dramatically, from direct off the crush pad to major wine event chic. (But you’ll not find any chain mail in sight.)

Similar to King Arthur’s Round Table, Women for WineSense’s round tables are steeped in a bit of mystery. Information shared at table is frequently labeled, “Not to leave this room!” Of course, this isn’t due to some NORAD missile defense system sensibility of ‘it’s us or them!’ It’s far more attributable to sense of sanctuary at the round table.

Like any industry, topics arise of a sensitive nature. Proprietary programs and knowledge are key to business success, from sales to viticulture. We’re here to help – not create a Cuban Missile Crisis!

On that note, I think you’ll understand when I say the following recap of one round table’s meeting would read like a heavily redacted document from the C.I.A. (the Big Brother agency—not the culinary training center Upvalley)!

Making Sense of a Sales Strategy for both DTT (Direct-to-Trade) and DTC (Direct-to-Consumer)

The Marketing/DTC Round Table was recently lucky enough to get Scott Forrest, National Sales Manager for Three Sticks Wines in Sonoma, to speak about developing and working various sales strategies both to the trade as well as to consumers. Scott brought his DTC specialist, Prema Behan, to the meeting as well to discuss some of the strategies she has employed for her target market.

While we didn’t have a round table, per se, at Jacuzzi Family Vineyards, the discussion around the heavy, rectangular European table was lively. Scott indicated some of his first strategies upon joining Three Sticks was to determine which states to distribute to and how many cases to allot as target sales goals across the country. (This was concurrent to developing a direct-to-consumer strategy that dovetailed with the master plan.)

Though Three Sticks Wines is a relatively new label, Scott thought it was essential to make long-term plans (and subsequent action steps) to gain market penetration in key states early on in its development. Why? The marketplace gets more and more crowded. You can’t wait until your brand has a stellar reputation years down the road and wide visibility to begin pushing open the crack in the door.

Questions he put to the attending marketing and direct-to-consumer members included:

  1. If your goal is to sell 5,000 cases in Texas next year, how are you going to get there starting from zero case sales?
  2. How many accounts do you need in any given state to sell X number of cases there?
  3. What is your point of difference from the other brands that will help to gain distributor sales as well as restaurant sales?

Fortunately, he didn’t leave us with a cliff hanger. The questions weren’t intended to stump anyone or put them on the spot. Scott’s point was simply that it’s crucial to map out your strategy to distribution step-by-step. Start with your sales goals and then begin figuring out how you’ll attain them.

Build Solid Relationships with Distributors

From all the information Scott imparted about dealing with distribution management on down to their sales staff, it was clear he could have written a multi-volume manual on how to do it successfully. Therefore, highlights here will be extremely abbreviated.

Here are some of his recommendations and observations:

  1. It’s all about the relationships. Build them for the long-run. Nurture them frequently. This business runs of the strength of relationships from the top down.
  2. Do your homework and be very organized! Do all your research; know your competition; know their other accounts’ margins, markups and so on before you begin dialing for appointments.
  3. Above all, be courteous and respectful of their time. It’s possible you may be shut down on the first phone call simply because you called at the wrong time. Hone your approach at every step by asking if it’s a good time to talk or meet. Give them recognition for taking time out of their busy day.
  4. Don’t be discouraged. If you get shut down on the first try, work on how you can get that door back open. Perhaps you weren’t clear in your delivery of the Point of Difference.
  5. Remember distributors and their sales teams are driven by quotas. They’re focused entirely on numbers and often don’t get to sample products. You’ll have to think on your feet and quickly adapt to shifting attention spans.
  6. Think twice before promoting the most original and clever marketing idea you’ve ever come up with – they’ve heard it all before, truly.
  7. If you get to ride with sales staff or managers to retail or restaurant accounts, be very respectful of their time and space. If you’re getting into their car, remember you’re invading their space. Acknowledge their generosity. Turn off your phone completely. The best way to kill a relationship at this time would be accepting an outside phone call. (That includes shutting off all email on your smartphone.)
  8. Working with distributors can be similar to working with shifting sands. Just when you get good rapport going with one branch you could find the entire team has been replaced, and you must start from scratch. Surprises abound.

Scott emphasized focusing on the factors most important to distributors:

  1. What is the profit per case you are offering? An average profit per case can be $30 – $35. If your brand offers a much greater profit margin, make this crystal clear to management and the sales staff. Their attention will perk up.
  2. What are key points of differentiation between your brand and everyone else’s? If you try to convey your wine’s quality is superior to everyone else’s you are unlikely to make headway. (Everyone has great quality wine!)
  3. Can you offer sales incentives? If so, be creative and offer an ‘in demand’ carrot. Cash prizes may work, but often they don’t. Competition is stiff to create adequate drive for a prize. Can you consider offering a trip to wine country? Electronics?

Target Comparable Restaurant Accounts

Scott’s recounted experience made it very clear successful restaurant sales are a combination of skill, timing and resilience. (I should note that while I’ve reduced the discussion to a short list on each topic, there was a great deal of discussion between attendees, telling of amusing stories, and rounds of Q&A throughout.)

Restaurant sales are the wine business’ equivalent to getting your music played on the radio. Restaurants are a fabulous conduit through which much of the public first learns about a new wine. And once enjoyed, that consumer will be off to her local wine shop to purchase it for home consumption. Therefore, the ability to gain the right balance of restaurant sales in various geographic areas can shape public perception and sales volume in that area. Nurturing these accounts may be a critical component of your overall marketing strategy.

Scott’s own ideas on gaining restaurant wine list space were multi-faceted. Here are a few of his observations:

  1. Gaining space on a prestigious restaurant’s wine list may be a coup. But, if the list is pages long, it won’t result in many case sales. However, it may be possible to leverage that position to obtain other accounts in that geographic area.
  2. Determine your key competitor brands and your strategy to position yourself next to them. Scott mentioned several luxury wine brands (withheld so I don’t get in trouble with him) he specifically seeks out on restaurant wine lists to determine if he should pursue the account. If he finds them there, he works on tactics to get his brand on the same list.
  3. Do your homework (again)! Know a restaurant’s wine list and style. Will your wine pair well with their food? Do they offer similar brands as yours to their guests? What do you know about the restaurant’s relationship with their distributor? (You don’t want to walk into an ambush if they’ve just chewed out the account manager for a problem with replacing someone else’s corked wine.)
  4. Target short wine lists. Your sales volume will be much higher than on the ‘extensive’ wine lists.
  5. Have a meal there. Get to know some of the staff when possible. Take interest in what is or isn’t working for them so you can determine if you can help.

After our lengthy discussion it left little time for Prema to offer some of her winning DTC strategies. But several were built around key principles of hospitality: Thank your biggest customers generously. Prema mentioned carefully reviewing her DTC sales results for the year and sending Christmas gifts to her best customers (who were most grateful for her extra recognition of their patronage).

We could have gone on for hours with this round table discussion, but there are only so many hours in the day. A big ‘thank you’ and round of applause was given to Scott and Prema for their insights and expertise (and is repeated here)!

Post event I ran into several recent blog posts relating to DTT and DTC sales you may find of interest:

  • Franchise States provides an excellent summary of the effects of ‘premature distribution.’ Rather, the author recommends you do considerable homework on each state in which you wish to sell your wine and on each distributor you consider doing business with since it is often an undivorceable relationship.
  • In The Biggest Challenge to a Winery Jeff Miller discusses what happens when your broker decides to close up shop and how this affects sales and your relationship with one or more distributors.
  • Paul Mabray looks at wineries’ relationships with their customers (and exactly who are they?) in Direct Through Trade – Social Media Redefining The “Customer”.
  • Alder Yarrow has a few words to say on where wineries are missing marketing opportunities in Social Media and the Wine Industry: A New Era.
  • Wrapping it up, Leah Hennessy Matteson offers commentary on some very interesting fresh sales statistics from the Wine Market Council in Millennier, Millennial Wine Buying Behavior Mirrors High End Consumer. In her analysis find that wine reviews are important to consumers for determining what to buy to drink at home and that folks are more than willing to try new luxury brands.

Please add your observations and comments by clicking on “Leave a Comment” at the top of the article here or at the bottom with “Leave a Reply.

Our evening was a prime example of the wonderful benefits of participating in one of our professional roundtables. These meetings provide in-depth expertise on a specific topic either requested directly by the round table’s members or fit within the round table’s category of focus.

My participation in the HR Roundtable facilitated a job offer from Silver Oak only six days after my position was eliminated at Jackson Family Wines. I credit landing on my feet to my active participation on the roundtable which afforded me visibility as an HR professional and allowed me to build relationships with other winery colleagues and provided immediate access to networking when I personally needed it, and luckily, securing new employment.

Linda Higueras
Employee Relations
Silver Oak & Twomey Cellars

For all eleven roundtables each meeting provides ample opportunity to network with others working in the same field (or related field). Share ideas, brainstorm, and build new relationships to continue your career development.

We are currently looking for an Education Director to oversee the roundtables as well as our scholarship program. If you know anyone who may make a terrific match for this position and would like to dig deeper in their Women for WineSense participation, please contact Chris Mueller, Chapter President, for details.

Do you have some great stories about what you’ve learned at a recent roundtable meeting? We’d love to publish your blog post about the event. Please send them to Marcia Macomber, Communications Director.

The Flying Pig - Cochon Volant

The Flying Pig - Cochon Volant

By Thayne Cockrum

Well, low and behold, a pig flew at Wine on America’s Table. Not a real one, but an intimidating sculpted metal pig that adorns the top of Cochon Volant’s custom built oven.  WWS said pigs would fly, but I didn’t actually believe I’d see one. The event delivered on all other promises as well. The wine – delicious, food-scrumptious, and the vineyard alfresco dining – perfect.

Upon arrival, we maneuvered our vehicle past the main house to the vineyard where we parked our car alongside rows of vines, with grapes hinting that veraison is on its way.  Underneath a giant tree between the Luchtel’s home and the vineyard, guests mingled about with wine glasses in hand. We began our afternoon with a pour of Sivas-Sonoma 2010 Sauvignon Blanc, a very clean and crisp summer sipper. As appetizers of gulf shrimp skewers and mini BLTs on broche toast floated around the party guests tasted the second wine of the afternoon, Fortunati’s Rose of Syrah

Amid the noshing, Gary and Ellen Luchtel spoke about the history of their vineyard and winemaking. The property sounded rather scary when stumbling upon it in the 1990s, but desire and passion for winemaking led them to leave their city life, doorman and all, for more Green Acres-style living. What is now covered in beautiful rows of vines was once cluttered with a run-down house, overgrown weeds and a junked car or two. 

Next came the food. As a southerner, I’m pretty picky about my BBQ, and Cochon Volant did not disappoint. Smoked using almond wood (Grill Master Rob says there’s no hickory in these parts), we dined on smoked chicken, ribs, and brisket. I put a good helping of everything on my plate and left not a trace. Paired with the delicious meats, we sipped on Cuvaison 2009 Pinot Noir and Fortunati 2007 Vinto and for me, more Rose. (One of my favorite combinations: BBQ and Rose).  Not to be upstaged by the main course, the dessert, a blueberry and white peach crisp with Chantilly Crème Anglaise had my sweet tooth singing the rest of the evening.

Other enjoyable activities included a vineyard talk with Gary Luchtel, summer dining tips by Sommelier Barbara Paige, more wine tasting of Fortunati’s other wines, and the always-exciting WWS Scholarship Fund auction table and raffle (which raised more than $1000 for the annual fund drive, helping WWS exceed their annual fundraising goal). Unfortunately, I did not win a single thing, but not wanting to go home empty-handed, I did leave with a half case of Fortunati wines.

The month of August is designated as a time to celebrate “Wine on America’s Table.” This is a tradition upheld by the ten US chapters of Women for Winesense, and a time to reflect on the importance American wine plays in creating a congenial atmosphere with family and friends when consumed in moderation and with food.  But how did this tradition start and why is it important? 

The story begins in the late 1980’s when several female winemakers living in Napa were shocked when their young children came home from school one day and asked “Mommy, why do you make drugs?” After consulting the local school to find out that the topic of lecture that day was drugs and alcohol, these female winemakers decided to start an organization to educate Americans on how moderate consumption of wine can increase quality of life and to celebrate wine as part of the US agricultural heritage.  Thus Women for Winesense (WWS) was born in 1990. 

Part of the education is the month-long event called Wine on America’s Table.  It is an opportunity to sit down during the long, warm and relaxing month of August with family and friends, to eat good food and wine made in America, and to celebrate our heritage. 

After all, wine is an agriculture product, one which Thomas Jefferson encouraged.  According to American Vintage by Paul Lukacs, Jefferson wrote, “No nation is drunken where wine is cheap…. and we have every soil, aspect and climate of the best of wine countries.” 

Wine on America’s Table also celebrates the more than 6000 wineries which operate in the US today — many of which are small family operations.  It also highlights the fact that the US is the 4th largest wine producing nation in the world. 

And so in August, WWS chapters across the US will celebrate wine in moderation as part of our national heritage. Event themes include wine dinners, wine picnics, wine and the Sunday dinner, wine at the Presidential Table, childhood education on wine, cooking with wine, wine from different traditions in the American Melting Pot, and other related topics. 

The Napa/Sonoma Chapter will hold its special wine celebration at Fortunati Vineyards, a private estate nestled in the heart of Napa’s Oak Knoll District.  WWS members and guests will enjoy a leisurely Sunday afternoon amongst the vines.  Alfresco dining tables will be setup in the vineyard.  Wines from Fortunati, Cuvaison, and Sebastiani will be paired perfectly with Rob Larman’s mouth-watering pork, beef and chicken menu.  For more information see: http://www.womenforwinesense.org/content.aspx?page_id=87&club_id=540956&item_id=164658 

For more information on Women for WineSense, see http://www.womenforwinesense.org/.  For more information on American wineries, see http://www.wineamerica.org/.

Seguin Moreau Entrance SignOn July 14th, Bastille Day, members of Women for WineSense, along with their guests, gathered at Seguin Moreau Napa Cooperage to celebrate France’s Independence Day and learn a bit about its long history and the barrel’s relationship with wine.

Kicking off the presentation while attendees enjoyed Valley of the Moon’s Sonoma County 2009 Pinot Blanc and crepes was Seguin Moreau’s President, François Peltereau-Villeneuve, discussing the history of barrel-making as well as its current usage.

We were all surprised to hear from him that only 2% of all wine produced globally is aged in barrels. The vast majority of wine produced is aged in other vessels, such as tanks made from concrete or stainless steel (if aged at all). Considering that wooden barrels have been used to store wine for upwards of 2,000 years, from Rome’s years of glory to the present, you might have thought market penetration would be much greater by now!

In point of fact, there was a time when demand for oak was nearly outstripping supply. The ascent of oak barrels for wine storage had its beginnings in the chateaux cellars and for transporting wine on boats. In addition, France’s oak forests were heavily logged for building military ships.

Audience Listening to Seguin Moreau CEOJust imagine: Something round in shape is simply easier to transport when your FedEx truck is driven by a horse with a cart. And if the barrels, heavy as they are, were square in shape, there’d be no moving them by hand either. Knowing what a beating product took in transportation (not unlike today!), barrels designated for transport had thicker staves, to protect them and the product on their journey to the end destination.

This demand, coupled with the fact that French oak trees cannot be harvested until maturity, around 100-150 years old, placed enormous stress upon France’s forests. What if there were no oaks left to make wine barrels? Mon Dieu! And so the French government stepped in to regulate the sustainability of their forests, though originally to ensure a consistent supply of timber for the warships. Now the ONF, or French National Forests Office, administers the sale of the regulated oak wood.

Fast forward a few centuries and the demand for wine barrels dropped dramatically after World War I and during  Prohibition in the U.S. It wasn’t until the early 1950s that demand picked up again. What with good winemaking skills that had dipped precipitously during Prohibition, Americans weren’t aging wine much—in oak, redwood, concrete or anything. The use of oak barrels for fermenting and aging in the United States came hand in hand with the boom of the Napa Valley. It wasn’t until Robert Mondavi advocated a return to Old World winemaking practices in the 1960s that a resurgence in demand began.

Enjoying the bright and refreshing 2008 Spring Mountain Vineyard Sauvignon Blanc with fresh crepes, Seguin Moreau’s leader continued on about modern barrels. Recently developed and introduced to the market, Seguin Moreau’s Fraîcheur barrels are made with acacia wood heads (and French oak staves), imparting unique floral and fresh characteristics. Some winemakers find this ideal for their white wines.

Francois Peltereau-Villeneuve

Francois Peltereau-Villeneuve

Throughout Mr. Peltereau-Villeneuve’s commentary, attendees asked lots of questions about barrel-making and the winemaker’s interaction and training with the barrels. We were surprised to learn that in the U.S. there is almost no schooling on the myriad effects of oak and toasting levels on the wine. And Stephane Vivier, winemaker of our third wine: 2010 Vivier Rosé of Pinot Noir, chimed in to mention that he received but four hours of training about wine and barrels in Dijon, France.

Stephane indicated that winemaking is a life-long learning process, and the winemaker experiments with different barrels, toasting levels and cooperages (they all have different styles) with his (or her!) wine over many vintages to find the right mix of barrels. Eventually winemakers cull down barrel selection to the ones that consistently work for them and the wines’ styles using oak to accentuate the wine and to lift it—but in the background.

Enjoying our first French wine of the evening, St. Louis Chardonnay VDP Comte Tolosan 2009, Chris Hansen, Seguin Moreau’s sales manager, explained it is common for wineries to purchase barrels from a number of different cooperages. This is so that they can mix and match the various cooperages’ wood and toasting styles with their wine for the aging process.

Each vintage is racked into a variety of barrels from new to one-use (one to three years of age) to neutral (18 months or older) from a variety of cooperages. From this mix the winemaker produces the final blend. And, of course, each wine and each vintage is produced from vines under different geologic and climatic conditions – just as the wood from which the barrels are made were grown with different conditions.

Combined with the fact that the atmospheric pressure present at different times of the day will cause the fire (and thus the toasting of the wood) to vary, the cooper has to be very skilled to take this into consideration in order to ensure consistency in toasting wood. 

All cooperages have different standards for toasting. There is no recipe and thus no industry standard as to what makes up light, medium or heavy toast in a barrel. Then there are often different barrel sizes for different varietals. For example, Burgundy barrels (60 gal.) are most often used to age Pinot Noir, Chardonnay, and other white wines. Burgundy barrels usually receive Medium Long toasting. Traditionally, Bordeaux barrels (59 gal. – names originated from their corresponding region) are for Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, and other red wines. The result of all these options? About a million or more possibilities in aromas and flavors for the finished wine!

Wrapping up his presentation while guests enjoyed the final, French wine, Chateau La Tarciere Muscadet 2009 Sèvre & Maine, Sur Lie, along with some heavenly sugared lemon crepes, François’s key take-away point was that the greatest barrel, the best wood, cannot make bad grapes into great wine. Without the finest grapes to begin with the barrel cannot transform the wine into superb wine.

As some attendees moved into to another room to watch a video about Seguin Moreau’s forest-harvest-to-barrel-cellar product, others commented how astounded they were “that any consistency can be achieved in the barrel wood and fruit interactions given the number of variations at play in the wood alone!”

Some were surprised to hear barrels came from other countries. Besides France, barrels are made from oak trees in America, Hungry, Russia and other European countries.

One thing was clear as guests wound up their visit: There’s a lot to learn about wine barrels, and some of them will return to Seguin Moreau soak up more knowledge on the nuances of the wine barrel.

About Seguin Moreau

Their main cooperage is in Merpins, in Bordeaux. They also have a cooperage in Burgundy, which was established in 1991 in an old grain cooperative—in the center of the town of Chagny, next to the legendary vineyards of Chassagne-Montrachet. And Women for WineSense attendees visited at the Napa cooperage, which was established in 1994 to serve Californian and U.S. winemakers.

For more information, visit Seguin Moreau’s website or view one of many videos on their barrel-making process on YouTube. Many thanks to Lynae Anderson for her expertise on Seguin Moreau and the art of barrel-making for this article!

Marie Antoinette suggested:”Let them eat cake!” So we will be taking her advice and serving French pan-cakes, also known as crepes, a very light, thin pancake, at our Bastille Day event.

Our event crepe menu includes delectable Crabby Crepes, Spinach, Cheese and Bacon Crepes, Al Fresco Crepes (avocado, tomato, cilantro, more…), and a light Dessert Crepe (sugar & lemon).

To accompany them, we have a lovely assortment of elegant, white wines. But before we get into some background on the wines, here’s a bit of back story on how crepes came to associated with the French:

CREPE HISTORY

The word crêpe is French for pancake, from the Latin crispus, meaning crisp. In France, crêpes were originally called galettes crêpes, meaning flat cakes. The French pronunciation of the word is with a short e, as in bed.

Crêpes originated in Brittany, the northwest region of France, where they rarely had fillings and were used as bread. Until about one hundred years ago, all crepes were made of buckwheat flour.

In France, crêpes are traditionally served on Candlemas (La Chandeleur), February 2. This day was originally Virgin Mary’s Blessing Day but became known as “avec Crêpe Day”, referring to the tradition of offering crêpes.

It was also served on Shrove Tuesday to celebrate renewal, family life, and hope for good fortune and happiness ahead. The belief was that if you could catch the crêpe with a frying pan after tossing it in the air with your left hand and holding a gold coin in your right hand, you would become rich that year.

In earlier times, in French rural society, farmers offered crêpes to their landowners as a symbol of allegiance. Crêpes are popular not only throughout France, but elsewhere in Europe, where the pancakes go by other names and adaptations, including Italian crespelle, Hungarian palacsintas, Jewish blintzes, Scandinavian plattars, Russian blini, and Greek kreps.

Today, creperies that specialize in serving sweet and savory crepes are found throughout France. The savory pancakes, served as a main course, are usually made of buckwheat flour and called galettes, or galettes sarrasines, while dessert crêpes are made with wheat flour. Savored for centuries, crêpes are now celebrated beyond France, with creperies in America, and elsewhere in the world.

THE SKILL OF CREPE MAKING

Until recently, crêpes were cooked on large cast-iron hot plates heated over a wood fire in a fireplace. The hot plates are now gas or electric heated, and the batter is spread with a wooden spreader and flipped with a wooden spatula. It is customary to touch the handle of the frying pan and make a wish while the pancake is turned, holding a coin in the hand.

Turning out a batch of the aromatic butter-browned pancakes is a rewarding endeavor. Assembling them is swift and can often he done ahead. With a stack of these tender discs on hand, you will have myriad serving possibilities for a happy repast any time of day.

Crêpes are ideal to make in advance and refrigerate or freeze, to fill later for a party or informal gathering. They are easy, dramatic, and fun to serve. One option is to stage a kitchen party and let guests spoon on their own fillings.

Crêpes may be made with either plain or sweetened batters. Incorporating different flours into the batter varies the taste. Savory batter can be based on whole-wheat flour or a variety of specialty flours, such as blue cornmeal, buckwheat, garbanzo, or chestnut, all available in bulk in many natural food stores or gourmet markets. Fresh herbs can be used to color and flavor savory crepes. Sweet crepes are enhanced b flavorings such as liqueurs, extracts, or fruit zest.

Crêpes star when it conies to versatility. Their fillings can be complex and sophisticated or as simple as a dollop of herb butter, a dice of chilies, or crumbled sheep or goat cheese. Or, for sweet bitefuls, tuck in some grated bittersweet chocolate or white or dark chocolate chips, spread with am and sprinkle with powdered sugar, or sprinkle with sugar and splash with lemon juice.

Crêpes may be filled and folded in various shapes for a decorative presentation. Ideal to serve around the clock-for morning brunch; an elegant lunch; a midday snack; or a dinner entree, accompaniment, or sweet finale-crêpes are the good cook’s best ally.

LES VINS

Mesdames et Monsieurs, we have got some truly special, elegant white and rosé wines for you at this event! Come taste these unique offerings. You won’t often get this opportunity! Je ne regrette rien!

Spring Mountain Vineyards 2008 Sauvignon Blanc (Spring Mtn. AVA)2008 Spring Mountain Vineyard Sauvignon Blanc ~ Spring Mountain Vineyard is an 850-acre estate on the eastern slopes of Spring Mountain. Over 225 acres of the estate are planted to vine, representing 135 distinct hillside vineyard blocks with many soil types, exposures, and microclimates.

Originally four individual 19th century Napa Valley vineyards, Miravalle, Alba, Chevalier and La Perla are now one vineyard producing primarily Bordeaux varieties. Because of the challenging and diverse hillsides, a substantial portion of the vineyard is planted in densities of over 4,000 vines per acre to the ancient gobelet form, a vertical training method invented in an earlier millennium by the Romans. The vineyard yields distinctive mountain wines noted for concentration, elegance and longevity.

With only 675 cases produced, this Sauvignon Blanc is a rare treat. Winemaker’s Notes: “The 2008 Sauvignon Blanc has a beautiful straw yellow color with green highlights. The nose is an intense combination of citrus and floral notes mixed with pronounced stony minerality a complex marriage of varietal and specific terroir. The palate is silky and elegant. Clean flavors of lime, grapefruit, white peach, apricot and hints of linden echo the wine’s aromas. Grown in austere, rocky soils, the wine minerality is evocative of a Loire Valley Sancerre, yet its weight and texture is pure Spring Mountain.” (Varietals: Sauvignon Blanc 87%; Semillon 13%) ~ $40.00 ($32.00 Wine Club) Estate Bottled

More on Spring Mountain Vineyard’s Sauvignon Blanc: “Since 1993, our estate grown Sauvignon Blanc has been styled along the lines of a fine white Bordeaux. The grapes are whole cluster pressed and the juice is cold settled overnight. It is then moved to neutral French oak barrels where fermentation is completed. The wine is kept sur-lie for 6 months with weekly stirring. This marries the wine’s bright flavors and acidity with the rich yeasty, toasty elements provided by barrel contact. Batonnage and extended sur lie aging create a texture that weaves layers of fruit and vanilla into a rich and complete wine.”

Vivier 2010 Rose of Pinot Noir2010 Vivier Sonoma Coast Rosé of Pinot Noir ~ Vivier blends the ancient traditions of French winegrowing with the youthfulness and potential of American vineyards. Focusing on Pinot Noir, the husband and wife team of Stéphane and Dana Vivier bring a Burgundian restraint and sensibility to wines made from California and Willamette Valley grapes, and it’s a darn fine combination.

Did you notice the balloon on the label? From their website: “It was late Summer 1906 in the Jardin des Tuileries. Picnickers gathered in the garden and diners filled the neighborhood terraces, eager to watch the launch of this inaugural overseas [balloon] race. What better way to celebrate this airy adventure than with a glass of Rosé.

“Made with a bit of restraint, a classic French style, and bright Sonoma Coast fruit, this Rosé shows floral, grapefruit, raspberry and earth notes and finishes up fresh.

“We sourced the grapes for this Rosé from the high-elevation, hillside Sonoma Coast vineyard we use for the Pinot Noir. The wine was fermented and aged in stainless steel.” ~ $18.00

Valley of the Moon 2009 Sonoma Coast Pinot Blanc2009 Valley of the Moon Sonoma County Pinot Blanc ~ Valley of the Moon Winery has been in operation longer than any other winery in the Glen Ellen area. The stone structures date back to 1863, and have great historical significance.

With aromas of honeysuckle, peach and lychee nut, this Pinot Blanc is the perfect mid-summer refresher. This wine is integrated and rich fruit flavors of pear, apple and nectarine which lead to a lengthy finish balanced with zesty acidity. From their winemaker’s notes: ” This traditional Alsatian-style wine is a blend of grapes from vineyards that are located in the Russian River Valley and the Southern Sonoma Valley. Both viticultural areas have deep alluvial soil and a cool climate due to the moderating influence of the Pacific Ocean and the San Pablo Bay. These cool microclimates are responsible for preserving the crisp acidity and fresh fruit character of the wine. The 2009 Pinot Blanc was whole-cluster pressed into stainless steel tanks and fermented at cool temperatures to preserve the varietal fruit aromas and flavors of the grapes. After fermentation portions of the wine lots were aged in French oak and Acacia wood barrels to enhance richness and provide additional complexity to the wine.” (Varietal Composition: 99% Pinot Blanc 1% Chardonnay) ~ Sale! $12.00

This perfectly balanced Pinot Blanc pairs well with seafood, shellfish (particularly oysters), poultry, salads, fruits, light pastas and mild cheeses. Its structure and fruity flavors also complement spicy cuisine.

Join us at Seguin Moreau Napa Cooperage to celebrate France’s Independence Day.

What's in the GlassIn the past week and a half, a number of wine events occurred in my life that got my gray cells working overtime. First, I attended a lovely dinner of wine bloggers, wine writers, wine critics and wine makers. I am none of these, but I am an avid reader of wine publications. And this is due to my desire to learn as much as possible about the business, its marketing and sales, and what makes great wine.

There were reportedly upwards of nineteen bottles on the table, a few of which I did not, sadly, get to sample. Conversation was quite lively as various parties chimed in with their opinions on specific wines, geographic characteristics for growing and farming techniques, alcohol levels, and much more. My goal was pretty much to soak up the knowledge floating across the table and try not to embarrass myself too much as the least knowledgeable one at the table. Overall, I don’t think I did too badly.

The second event was a small blind tasting. I have historically been horrible at these, and the trend continued that night. It should be noted that the majority of wines poured were French, an area of wine knowledge for which I have far less understanding than I do for the wines of the U.S. (But I usually completely bollix domestic blind tastings as well.)

After the blind tasting I felt suitably humbled with a rather permanent sensibility it will always be three step forwards and a minimum of two steps back for me in wine knowledge, from my lips to my brain. Somewhere along the way the synaptic connections just don’t get made as the libation slips past my olfactory senses, over the taste buds, and down my gullet.

My wine education of domestic production has always been more along the lines of knowing where the edge pieces of the puzzle are located–even if the pieces in the middle are missing or heavily jumbled. I can make sense of what I’m drinking, where it came from, and the general characteristics of the terroir. The wines of France, on the other hand, seem something akin to Mr. Spock’s 3D chess games – way too far beyond my ken to even grasp the outer edges of the game.

Since the French use an entirely different system of identifying their wines (by geographic location and not by varietal), I can’t compare puzzle to puzzle or the sizes and shapes of the pieces of French wines to U.S. wines. France’s wines are a whole separate game, and I’ve yet to get a handle on the rulebook.

Sure, there are regions from which I love the wines the French produce. There are wineries whose product I love. But it’s continually frustrating because I can never compare wines from the U.S. with wines from France. It’s an apples-to-oranges exercise in futility. (And it’s not that I’m trying to determine if one wine is better than another in comparison.)

We humans seem to have a ongoing desire to compare things. It’s one way we learn, evaluating one similar item against another. Our brains are just wired this way.

They even managed to compare wines in the famous Judgment of Paris in 1976, when the real experts were able to compare U.S. wines side-by-side with some of the finest French wines. (Why can’t I makes sense out how to line them up side-by-side?)

It would seem I am not the only American with this frustration. As I lamented my lack of French wine understanding (for which I frequently turn to the blog stylings of Samantha Sans Dosage to up my educational level), lo and behold a number of articles landed in my inbox on this topic.

The first grabbed my attention as a marketer: “French wine industry ponders shift in marketing strategy.” That’s a pretty substantial move for an entire industry. What could possibly spur an entire industry – one long steeped in history and tradition – to shift its thinking and strategy so dramatically? The answer dropped in my box but a few days later: “French wine consumption drops by three billion bottles.” Ouch!

The message (to the French) appears to be coming through loud and clear: Adapt or perish! The latter is unlikely and undesirable to happen. But given the sorry state of wine consumption in France alone (the intake per capita has dropped precipitously in one generation), they know some dramatic changes are in order. But what should they be?

The French method of organizing and categorizing wine is vastly different than here in the States. (And remember, I have a hard time myself understanding how it all works. So this explanation will be quite bare bones!) Given French wines have been around for thousands of years and the formal system of ranking and categorizing their wine has been around for hundreds of years, it was originally based upon the most common logic of its time: geography.

Rule #1: Sell your wine to everyone close by. Transportation costs are then lowest. They’ll remember your wine if you describe it as being ‘over two hills in that direction.’ This system has worked for hundreds of years.

Rule #2: Once you’ve sold to everyone nearby, expand your market further geographically. Now the folks farther away need more information in order to remember if your wine is better than the guy’s ‘three hills in that direction.’ Along comes a ranking system to designate if the wine ‘two hills over’ is of better quality (for a variety of reasons) than the one grown ‘three hills away.’

Are you confused yet? Well, this system worked just dandy for a few hundred years when folks with but a single horse and buggy didn’t travel far (nor did the wine), so it was easier to keep straight in their heads what wine came from which location.

Fast forward a century or two and several major changes have taken place which have resulted in this long-standing system not working nearly as well as the French would like. Aye! There’s the rub!

The biggest monkey wrench is that the U.S. doesn’t categorize, organize or prioritize its wine production by geography. (Napa Valley wineries and producers will vociferously argue this point – and they’re right to a certain degree – but that’s getting ahead of the story.)

Much to the French’s endless frustration, American wines (above and below the 49th Parallel) are identified primarily by varietal before geographic origination. The French probably gave little thought to this deviation from their own system when it was established long ago–before the U.S. producers made wine that amounted to a hill of beans.

But now this is a problem, the U.S. is gaining market share and France is losing market share – even in their own backyard. Furthermore, Italy’s wine exports continue to kick *ss in the U.S. (And they do actually list the varietal on their labels!)

So what should we all do about this conundrum? How should we make sense of it all? I, for one, do not wish the French to change how they make their wine one iota. I aspire to understand it and identify it better (and to drink a lot more of it!) I do believe the time has come for the French to squeeze varietal names onto their labels (however small they wish to make it in size). This option was granted to them in 2004, but it is difficult to change an industry’s practices so entrenched in tradition and history. But a second challenge remains: the French are far more accepting and understanding of blended wine, of which a great deal of production includes several varietals. They won’t all fit on the label! (We don’t squeeze them all on our labels here either.)

Americans have less understanding of and greater resistance to making blended wine purchases. Some are suspicious that a blend must represent a great vat of unknown leftover wine that’s been dumped together (which is hardly the case). Others simply view blends as a great gamble to purchase than something that’s identified as “California Chardonnay” – another misconception.

As a consumer, I see my wine education much as Lewis and Clark must have seen America: “What? Another mountain to climb on the other side?!” I’ll continue to lumber off to blind tastings in hopes that my abilities improve the longer I’m at it. I’ll continue to try new (to me) French wines, seeking out mnemonic devices so that I get one step closer to identifying them correctly in a blind test.

As a marketer, I hope French wine producers evaluate their options from the point of view of what will best help the consumer better understand their product(s) faster and easier. (Speed and simplicity improve the ‘likability’ factor of a product much more, spurring purchases.) A little sensibility in marketing goes a long way in increasing sales.

For another perspective on wine education, check out The Return on Investment of Wine Education.

By Liz Thach, MW, WWS Communications Committee

On Thursday, May 26, 2011, nine members of the WWS Wine Technology Roundtable carpooled to Google headquarters in Mountain View, California to learn about new tools and methods to sell wine online, as well as new technologies to run a small wine business more efficiently.

The day began with a tour by hosts Joe Rosenberg and Danny Navarro.  The first items that caught our eye as we entered the Google campus were the many rainbow colored bikes that employees were encouraged to ride to connect to multiple office buildings.  Brightly colored umbrellas, tables and lounging chairs, outdoor gardens with herbs and vegetables, sculptures, and fountains could be found throughout the complex, as well as an employee swimming pool, volleyball court, nap pods and the famous Google slide.  The site is home to 8,000 of Google’s 25,000 global employees.

 
Google Headquarters, Mountain View, CA

Google Headquarters, Mountain View, CA

After the tour, we had lunch at Charlie’s, the largest of many Google restaurants.  A cafeteria style establishment, it offered choices of Mexican, Italian, Japanese, Thai, and many other delicious foods.  Probably the most amazing aspect is that all of Google’s restaurants are completely free to employees and guests, and they are open for breakfast, lunch, and dinner, including some meals on weekends.

After lunch, we were treated to a 2-hour presentation on some of the methods Google has available to increase wine sales (see list below), as well as an introduction to Google Apps Premier Edition.  This is based on cloud technology and is an inexpensive method ($50 per year per employee) for small businesses, such as wineries, to place all of their working documents on a secure Internet server which can be accessed from any device, including mobile phones.  It includes customized website, email, calendar, document storage, and the opportunity to work collaboratively on any document (e.g. MS Word, Excel, Powerpoint, or other platforms) from any location in the world.

Methods to Increase Online Wine Sales

Joe, Danny and colleagues also offered the following methods and tools to either enhance or increase sales:

1)    Set Up Proudct Search – identify someone on your marketing staff to place every SKU on Google Product Search (a free service).  This includes taking a photo of your wine bottle/label, using unique product identifiers, such as SKU, and updating often according to inventory depletions.

2)    Invest in Google Ads – provide a monthly budget for online advertising and appoint a marketing rep to monitor ads.  This allows your wines to be placed in the top or side bars of search pages, but you only pay for advertising if someone clicks on the link.  You can easily track ROI, and for as little as $100 per month can drive much traffic to your website.

3)    Target Cell Phone Users – invest in Mobile on the Go, new mobile apps, and other methods to target cell phone users who are geographically near your winery.  Adopt QR codes and other methods to allow consumers to review and purchase wine via cell phone.

4)    Get on YouTube – film a short and interesting video about your wine, winery, vineyard, or a brand related event and place on Youtube.  This doesn’t have to cost much or be professionally filmed.  Wineries with larger marketing budgets should consider purchasing their own Youtube channel as many spirits companies are, e.g. Gray Goose, Captain Morgan

5)    *Connect the Social Media Dots – have an authentic social media presence on Facebook, Twitter and other platforms to drive traffic to your website, but more importantly adopt the new Google +1 Button when it becomes available (http://www.google.com/+1/button/). This will allow consumers to give their stamp of approval to your wines and website, and will show up on search engines so your friends/family will know the wines you recommend.

6)    Adopt Google Wallet – set up your winery retail room to accept the new Google Wallet technology which allows consumers to load their credit cards onto their cell phone. 

Before departing the Google campus, we took a group photo (see below) and made a quick visit to the Google store to purchase souvenirs for family and friends.  Definitely a fun field trip, and a great way for the WWS Wine Technology Roundtable to gather for its second meeting.

Technology Roundtable Members with Google Staff

Technology Roundtable Members with Google Staff