Thursday, April 30, 2009

What's the best pairing for a web presence? Physical presence and flat out hustle.

As more people and are becoming more connected, there is a notion that working smarter can replace working harder. This is FALSE! A web presence is vital in today's tough market. This economy is taking it's toll. It may be cliche, but those that hustle will sell more wine. Consider part of the hustle to be your web presence. Blog, post, tweet as much as you can (as long as the content is good). Hustle in front of the computer, or on your laptop, or phone. Use your downtime to get the words out there. Putting the hours and sincere effort in right now is irreplaceable.
What else is irreplaceable? Time in front of actual people pouring and talking about the wines. You need to have a presence in the public as much as you have a web-presence. Be in accounts and schedule events. Physically being there is not enough either though, you need to be a presence. Have a personality, an energy, a confidence. Engage the people tasting your wine. Your enthusiasm will make the wine taste even better.
The more presence you have in a tasting, the more it will parlay into web presence. Embrace cross promotion! Get people to come out to your tastings with your web presence. Make the tastings so great that people will spread the word through multiple medium. Make sure they know how to find you on the web. Making your efforts pay off is the best way to work smarter today.

Monday, April 27, 2009

Winemakers:plugged in

When we talk about Web 2.0, or Wine 2.0, we are often discussing connectivity. How often and how quickly do you communicate? Has the 2.0 world added benefits to your world. Are you able to do things now that you weren't before? Sometimes the answers are mixed, but there is a palpable sensation that everything is about to break wide open.
All at once, progressive minded individuals in the world of wine seem to to coming up with the same ideas at once. One such idea, is remote winemaker tastings.
Winemakers know their wine better than anyone, but their job lies in the cellar. This is what they are meant to do. The time on the streets, that's better left to salespeople. Winemakers have a bit of justified disdain for the whole dog and pony show. But their insights are invaluable. When winemakers discuss the wines they made, the result is a different level of understanding. Unfortunately, this usually meant either you going to see them, or them going to see you. For Ohioans, this isn't necessarily practical. So City Cellars in Downtown Cincinnati is teaming up with Niner Wine Estates in Paso Robles to offer a live feed wine tasting on Tuesday. Winemaker Amanda Cramer has an impressive resume, and this should be a fascinating interactive talk. They will be using Skype for the 2 way conversation. Currently, I am working with Niner to help develop new formats for such tastings that employ a more powerful and syndicate-able program. We are also working on a way to do live tastings, viewable by anyone over the Internet with the ability to do live chat during the event. This may not be totally revolutionary, but this application of the technology seems unprecedented. This could open a Pandora's box of amazing event opportunities. Can you imagine connecting with Winemakers a world away? Live feeds from vineyards? The possibilities are exciting!

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Link in without being a lurker

Do you still read the morning paper every day? Me too. Guess what? I rarely find 1st section news that is still news to me. I have become so connected that I already know most of the big stories before I read them. My daily ritual includes silence, coffee and the paper, so I don't expect this to change anytime soon. My newer rituals include checking the news feed before bed. I know what people tell you about getting on the computer before bed, but this helps me sleep better.
I have also done a pretty good job of being early in the curve for information within my industry. In fact, I really read every link on the right, and will always read every link on the right. This will always be the site I will use rather than an RSS feeder (which is still incredibly useful). Not once, but twice in the last 2 weeks, I have unearthed business opportunities on that feed on the right. I read email constantly. I have a blackberry. I don't spend ridiculous hours in front of the computer, but I definitely make good use of my time staying on top of what is going on. I don't understand professionals that don't reply to within 24 hours 90%+ of the time. This is a huge pet peeve. This is also a new acceptable form of unprofessional ism. This is wrong. The only thing worse is when people don't return phone calls promptly.
So here's my story from today. As I was reading my blogs and news of the day, I came across a piece about a winery that I covet and am trying to add to my portfolio. I read it, and forwarded the link of to the person that I've been going back and forth with. As it turns out, I was the first person to tell him about it. I was lucky, but I made my own luck, I wasn't online when it was posted, I was out selling wine. Instead, during my routine, I caught this items, more than 2 hours after it posted. Now here comes the what if. What if this is the "make or break" moment? In my eyes, this is such an important and coveted piece of my puzzle, that if I were to somehow put this together, years from now, this could be one of those moments. There was no way for me to know this was going to happen. It may never lead to anything. That said, it's worth recognizing that I put myself in this position. Staying in touch is crucial. Making technology and your time work together is crucial today. Everyone will experience a certain amount of failure in life, but you can't hit 500 home runs if you don't get the at bats. Today, I gave myself 1 more at-bat.

Monday, April 20, 2009

Pay it forward

The "old boy" culture of the wine industry is dying a pretty quick death. Deeply and long held beliefs about how to buy loyalty are becoming passe. The old way of bribery with court side seats, or free wine is being replaced, at least in some circles. Want to know how to get loyalty? Help your customers improve their business. This should be at the heart of why every person sells wine. Healthy customers makes your business healthy. The lack of this understanding is at the very stench of corporate insincerity. Old tired lines like "in these tough times, people are looking for a brand they are comfortable with" is absolute selfish BS. It shows immediate disdain for each customer by over simplifying the complex economic effects on the wine industry.

I don't believe in dealing, I do believe in being a valuable resource for my clients. I rarely say no to an event. Many of my competitor scoff at this idea, but now, they can't wait to get me off the streets. I volunteer to present staff training with wines that aren't mine. Why? 2 reasons, increased exposure to competitors wines make me more relevant. And, irreplaceable expertise. When the competitors can't speak as eloquently about my wines as I can about theirs, it puts them at an immediate disadvantage. Engaging your account's staff is a sure-fire way to build your business. Sommeliers don't come from the roofing industry, they work their way up. They all worked as a busboy or hostess. somewhere. Don't you wish you would have caught them on the way up? If you treat every support staff as part of the equation, you will be rewarded as their careers blossom. even if it is a relatively low rate of return. If you invest yourself in education, and having the patience to know all of the servers at your best account

The most important part of being involved though, is the value of "co-ownership" of your account's wine program. A genuine and sincere interests in the very best wine selection or list, will come back around. Invest your time and candid opinions. Help your accounts to be as competitive as possible. A big chunk of my wine education came from my reps when I was a buyer. If you help your accounts, and represent great wines, the placements will come naturally and every will feel better for it. If your trying to manipulate rather than educate, you will have no loyalty or credibility. 2 qualities you just can't buy.

Saturday, April 11, 2009

Why wine blogging is important

Blogging is often considered the current accepted form of narcissism. While I don't totally disagree with this estimation, blogging has become a vital part of our niche culture. As we become more niche and specialized, blogging carries more of a voice. In the world of wine, blogging has certainly taken hold. In fact, you're reading a wine blog right now. For me, it's good to have a creative release, even if no one reads it. Opinions are important in my business, and this helps me to flesh out my thoughts on complex and what I think are interesting perspectives.
More important for me to write, is for me to read. I try to keep up with some of the more important wine (and food and marketing) blogs on a regular basis. This keeps me abreast of developments within my industry. The more I read and listen, the quicker I can recognize emerging regions, techniques, and trends. This is crucial for what I do. It allows me to remain competitive from a seemingly non-vital part of the country (NW Ohio).
This week, I came across a winery that I had never before heard of, while reading a blog. I was fascinated by their approach to filling a big need in the market, as well as their attention to quality. I googled them, contacted them via their website, and have received comments back from 2 of the owners. I will speak with them next week about ampelography, and what they are doing, and whether it is a good fit. Blogging is helping me to do business. It doesn't replace many of the aspects of the traditional way of doing wine business, but it certainly complements it. Recognizing this is a crucial aspect to Wine Web 2.0, accessing and reacting to information faster than was previously possible.

Monday, April 6, 2009

Demetria Estate

As I was putting this portfolio together, I asked my friends in Santa Barbara to recommend some new producers. One name kept popping up, Demetria. Demetria was established in 2005 when they purchased the former Andrew Murray property in Santa Ynez Valley. It's a property I knew well, and have visited it several times. The vines are pristine, I knew they were planted with great rootstock. I was especially intrigued about Deemetria's approach to farming. They subscribe to biodynamics.
I am at heart a skeptic. I also know about biodynamics from my Uncle, who is a Rudolph Steiner devotee. But here's my take on this. Every winery I have ever come across that uses biodynamics is of exceptional quality. I believe that this sort of caring for the earth and the vines is a very interesting and exciting approach. It can't help but raise the quality of the end product. I applaud the efforts that Demetria is taking for both the environmental impact, and for the painstaking commitment to quality.
So how are the wines? Well, they're terrific, Demetria makes Rhone varietals form their Santa Ynez Estate , and , they make Burgundian Varietals from their Estate in Santa Rita Hills. I've tried red and white from both locations and each wines shows a restraint, complexity and a sense of place. These were exciting wines to try,and I can't wait to start showing them to my accounts and friends

Silver Wines

I met Benjamin Silver about 10 years ago in SB. At the time, he had just launched his winery, and was starting to take a stab at Italian Varietals grown in and around Santa Barbara. What struck me about him though, was his sincerity and easygoing confidence. I could tell Benjamin would be a great winemaker, at that time, he actually already was.
Benjamin grew up on the East Coast, and studied to be a Veterinarian. As is so often the case, the wine bug bit him. He moved out west upon graduation, and landed with Zaca Mesa. He worked his way up through the ranks and learned the lay of the land. When he began making his own wines, he took a European approach, although, not a French but rather and Italian passion for the wines. His mere attempt to wrangle Nebbiolo in Santa Barbara and create a world class bottling would have seemed crazy, except, he succeeeded. Many people will vouch for the quality of his Italian Varieties. His best wine, may be his Julia's Vineyard Pinot Noir. Fruit from this vineyard is coveted, and usually only 6 producers get thier hands on it in any given vintage. The fact that he has made this wine so many times speaks to his proficiency. Silver has tightened their focus in recent years, and is now focusing on the traditional SB varieties along with a Cab/ Sangiovese blend or 2. We are extremely pleased to reunite with the wine sof Benjamin Silver.

Langdon Shiverick Imports

Langdon Shiverick Imports was founded over 20 years ago when Louie Langdon and David Shiverick teamed up to import some of the finest wines from Europe. David Shiverick eventually purchased the company outright and has been searching for and representing some of the top estates in France, Germany, Italy, and Spain. David is very well-known for his ability to find outstanding producers in Europe and then developing the wines through a distributor network of twenty states. Many of the producers are very highly rated and although limited in quantity, he makes sure all markets have a chance to purchase his wines. Robert Parker once said "David Shiverick maintains a remarkably low profile in view of the high caliber of his portfolio. The estates are not always household names and that's the reason why wine insiders are his biggest fans."

David's portfolio now contains over 50 top producers. Ampelography is very proud and excited to now represent Langdon Shiverick Imports. In the coming weeks, I will post about many of these individual producers.

Thanks to JD Johns for his contribution to this post.

Sunday, April 5, 2009

How to sell wine and sleep at night...

6 years ago, I was a Sommelier at a really good Restaurant in Santa Barbara. My view every day was of the beach, I watched the sunset over the Santa Barbara bay every night. I had autonomy of a 500 bottle list, and loved my job. I never really liked salespeople, even though I dealt with them on a daily basis. I always felt that a necessary evil of the wine business was that occasionally, people needed to sell wine that they didn't like. If my opinion and knowledge were my source of credibility, how could I ever maintain that being obliged to sell wine insincerely. This was easy to say as a Sommelier, and easier to do. I was approached many times to try my hand at selling, and I always said "no thank you".
One day, The Henry Wine Group came a knockin. I quickly said no, but for some reason, I tossed and turned over my decision. I came back and accepted this time. I decided that if I were to ever make the leap, this is the situation for me. I was very comfortable with my job, and didn't feel like I was challenged anymore. This decision changed my life.
Henry was the perfect company for me because for 2 reasons: a) Best Portfolio in California, huge with great imports b) very professional organization. They taught me how to sell and be honest and upfront. No dealing, everything above the table. They taught me about the value of being knowledgeable about wine. It is these lessons that have a will carry me through my entire career.
Once you decide what type of salesperson to be, the rest is easy. I decided to be myself, with opinion (but not opinionated, you don't need to be an expert at everything), and curious (always learning). This gives me consistency. It also serves me well as the choices I've made and opinions I've given were always for the noble pursuits of servicing or educating my customers. If my restaurants can't use the information I give them to sell more wine and improve their wine program (both are equally important), then I have failed.
I could easily sell wine with animals on the label all day long, but then, who have I benefited? In this business, you always have 3 customers in each transaction: Your account, Your supplier, and the company that signs your check. If you don't represent the right wineries, someone else may suffer, usually, this is your customer as you shill mediocre crap with your supplier or employers best interest. I had to find a way to appease all 3. The only real way to appease all 3 was to only represent producers I believe in. So now I have assembled a portfolio. It's not finished yet, but it's starting to look like something. And this is exciting. It's all producers I believe in. There are commonalities to all of them, but that probably just reflects my personal opinions. Now I can walk into any restaurant or Retail store, represent these 13+ producers and hold my head high because I'm proud of these wines. That's how I sleep at night.

Saturday, April 4, 2009

Anne Amie Vineyards

Every now and then, you come across a winery that is just doing everything right. Not flashy, no gimmicks, just really cool people making and selling great wine. That describes Anne Amie Vineyards to a "T".
Anne Amie is the baby of Robert Pamplin, Philanthropist, Author, Minister, Environmentalist, Educator, and much more. He purchased Chateau Benoit in 1999 in Willamette Valley. I can't speak to the quality of the wine prior to his purchase, but my understanding is that there was a lot of unfulfilled potential. He changed the name, and began bringing in some pretty key personnel. They kept one vineyard with Muller Thurgau, and pretty much replanted, grafted and generally changed everything else. They also purchased 3 additional estate vineyards. Most plantings are as recent as 2000-2001. Benoit had been producing every wine imaginable, but now, Anne Amie would, appropriately, focus on the 3 Pinots. L.I.V.E. and Salmon Safe practices were instituted, and Anne Amie was eventually certified.
With prime vineyards containing a diversity of Clones and Soil types, blending would be key. Single Vineyards bottlings can show great style, but many believe that blending different elements can result in a superior wine. The answer is there's no right answer, just style preferences. The results of Anne Amie are hard to argue against though. Using the right amount of age, and master blending results in very complex refined Pinot Noirs. The whites show the only flashiness, with rich Pinot Gris and racy Muller Thurgau, the whites have found thier own cult. As the wines gather age, and the winemaking and winegrowing team continues to flesh out the nuances of the grapes, this is a winery that is already making great wines, but has an even brighter future!

Parker's Bitch

Thanks Craig, for sharing this fascinating video. This video shows the backlash we're starting to see against the "Parker style". As I speak with younger wine drinkers, they are beginning to appreciate wine with character. I have also had discussions with almost every producer that ampelography represents about their style, and how tastes are coming back to wines with lower alcohol. Creative and credible marketing can replace scores!

Robert Parker's Bitch from Josh Hermsmeyer on Vimeo.

Friday, April 3, 2009

Lachini Vineyards

I've been a pretty big fan of Oregon Pinot Noir since about the 1998 Vintage. This was further solidified during my time at Oregon Pinot Camp. I'll eventually wax poetic about why Oregon Pinot Noir is a s good as it is. One of the hottest producers in recent years has certainly been Lachini Vineyards.
Ron Lachini has a long standing passion for Pinot Noir. In 1997, he and his wife, Marianne moved from California to Oregon to find a vineyard site. The discovered a plot of land, 47 acres, in Newberg with nice, shallow Willakenzie soil. Their first vintage was 2001.
Since the Lachinis started, they have added World Class Winemaker, Laurent Montelieu, and Peter Rosback, of Sineann (ed note: crazy good wines) for the "S" bottling. They have also paid special attention to their farming practices. They are moving towards Biodynamics, are Salmon Safe, and participants in L.I.V.E. "Low Input Viticulture and Enology, Inc. program (LIVE, Inc.) is a program providing vineyards and wineries official recognition for sustainable agricultural practices that are modeled after international standards such as the practice of Botanical diversity in the cover crop and management practices that favor beneficial insects."
Oh, by the way, the wines are outstanding! It's apparent that the Lachinis are looking to Burgundy for thier Pommard style Pinot Noirs. Great tannin structure and
ageability. Lachini is one of the most exciting new producers in Oregon.

Thursday, April 2, 2009

Buttonwood Farm

In the Wine Business, one of the characteristics that separates the everyday portfolio to that of distinction, can be the ability to see see the potential of greatness. I have known Buttonwood wines for about as long as I've been in the business. I bought them and enjoyed them, but always viewed them as a good value, but unremarkable.
Sometimes the thin line that lies between vision and potential is never crossed. Understanding the potential and matching it to a vision is a very difficult thing to do. We see a square peg in a round hole quite a bit. Once upon a time, every varietal was planted throughout Santa Barbara. Now that has been refined as visionary wineries refined their scope and found what worked. Because of the microclimate on the Eastern edge of Santa Ynez Valley, Bordeaux Varietals planted here have gotten pretty good.
Buttonwood planted about a third of their 100+ acres to vineyards, largely Bordeaux Varietals. The winery is almost 30 years old, what's changed? As is so often the case, the Winemaker. Karen Steinwachs has some really good experience working at 2 of my favorite wineries, Foley and Fiddlehead. 2 years ago, she came to Buttonwood and truly helped to improve what they were doing. They already had pretty good fruit sources, but how could this translate into wines of character? Karen surely must have looked to Bordeaux for inspiration, but probably not Pomerol or Medoc, but Premieres Cotes de Bordeaux, or the satellites. As I've tasted through Karen's wines, her Sauvignon Blanc could easily pass for good Bordeaux Blanc. She's not afraid to use some Semillon, and they exhibit a richness and minerality you don't often see in California, along with a nice musty, earthiness. So far, the reds are showing great earth and restraint. These are wines that have their own distinct character and are a tremendous value. I'm excited to see where these wines go from here!

Wednesday, April 1, 2009

Niner Wine Estates

Niner Estates came to me through an old friend from my days in California, Ken Bryant. Ken, now the National Sales Manager for Niner, is gregarious, friendly and charismatic. You can really see the energy of the room change when he's in it.
We were catching up about 6 months ago, and he told me about his new position at Niner. I'd never heard of Niner before, so Ken sent me a case of samples. As Heather & I tasted through them over the course of a week or so, the wines kept getting better and better. After we finished, I began to get the full story from Ken.
The winery, established in 2001, was based on 2 Estate Vineyards, Bootjack Ranch and Heart Hill, both planted by legendary viticulturist Jim Smoot. The rest of the management team brought tremendous experience capped off with winemaker/consultant, Chuck Ortman. Eventually, they would find a full time winemaker in Amanda Cramer, who has worked at Chimeny Rock, d'Arenberg, Casa Lapastolle, and with the famed Heidi Barrett. Amanda has clearly put her thumbprint on these wines, which are like no other I've had from Paso Robles. The wines has a great richness of texture and each is dark fruit driven. I've tasted stunning examples of unruly varietals like Barbera and Sangiovese as well as Cabernet that tastes like Napa bottlings of twice the price. With a tatsing room scheduled to open in late summer, Niner Estate has all the pieces in place for great success. It's very exciting to add them to our portfolio.