Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Another charity wine tasting? woo. hoo.

First and foremost, it's of paramount importance for everyone that has resources, whether they are time, financial, or other, to give back to their community. Get involved in organizations. Sit on the board at least once in your life. Community service is a great way to exercise your skills for a good cause. Believe in a worthy cause, and put significant energy towards making that cause as much money as possible.

We are well into the season of the year in which Wine Galas abound. Each year, countless charity organizations decide that the best way to raise money is to host a wine tasting extravaganza. Make people feel like their $50-$500 ticket is worth it because of all of the awesome food and wine. Consumers pay the money, come taste the wines, and everybody is happy. Right? Well, not really. What is happening is these events are not only losing their caché because there are so darn many of them that they all blur together, but the supplier of the wines are starting to lose enthusiasm quickly because there are a dozen requests or more per year. The resulting donations end up being last years samples at best. The more events the more you need to say no. The more duplicate events, the worse it gets. I have been personally involved in planning several of these events, and it's always the same thing. The organizers of these events simply assume that the mere forum to taste this broad array of wines is a great way to promote one's products, and ultimately result in recognition and retail sales. this does not happen. In addition to the charity landscape sucking ass right now, no one has been able to reinvent the wheel.

I have a solution, sort of. The 2 battles that each of these events is fighting are originality/ differentiation and enthusiasm from the organizers and participants. It's time to change the format of these events. The reboot is long overdue, and as the economy is transitioning, it's time to differentiate from the crowded event landscape. Here are my suggestions of how to elevate your game:

1) Pick a new time of the year-Oct-Dec is so crowded, it's impossible to thrive
2) Pick a new venue. -No more Hotels or convention centers. Get creative. Outdoors is an awfully good place to start.
3) Pick a new format-Just because people are getting finger food and glasses of wine doesn't mean that they don't feel like cattle.
4) Act like a business. People want to help, but you're competing against other charities. You can't sell one cause over another, but you can sell them on what is beneficial for the people participating. Find out what would make them excited and want to participate, and don't assume restaurateurs and wine people will want to sit on a board. you need to go get the answer from them. Make it worthwhile
5) After someone says yes, stop asking for more-This is a huge turn off. If someone will come to an event, and stand there for 3 hours and pour wine at their expense, it's unfair to ask them to for more product. You'll inevitably get crap anyways.
6) When asking for donations, ask for something specific-sometimes the hardest thing is not deciding if to donate, but what to donate.
7) Make your event original and able to withstand the "elevator pitch" test, this is how you spread word of mouth for next year.
8) Always build towards next year. Better enthusiasm, will result in better word of moth, ticket sales and participation.

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

In defense of the criticism of plonk

[yellowtail] is plonk. In an attempt to keep it short and sweet, I didn't explain why. In fact, [yellowtail] is short and sweet. Back story time. Randall Grahm took some heat earlier this week for his comments on splendid table. It's worth mentioning that Randall did say that his comments were not meant for every aussie Shiraz producer, but many that have defined the style. Secondly, he was trying to defend the noblest of all grapes, syrah. He raised some very important points about syrah/ shiraz, one of which is that most shiraz we experience, is pure winemaking. Terroir is out the window. Shiraz we think of is pure unadulterated fruit juice. Easy to make, easy to drink, sweet, simple. blah! I don't believe anyone in this is evil or less sophisticated, many Aussies have made quite a bit of money from this formula that Americans love. Making money is truly acceptable. And there are some amazing world class producers in Australia that are turning out amazing wines like Kaesler, Langmeil and the Burge Family.

That said, like it or not, when you make wine that is soda pop, and you have essentially confused an entire wine drinking generation about arguably the worlds greatest grape, you're going to get some heat. And you deserve it. So take it and say, I deserve it because I've made a choice in my career to make money off of people that don't know any better. And if, as Aussies, you really take umbrage with Randall's dead on comments, take it up with the people that are turning out the grape juice that has more in common with Mogen David than hermitage.

No one makes technically flawed wines anymore, we know too much and have come too far, so when I say these wines are crap, I don't mean that they have technical flaws, I mean that there's no wine in these wines. And the argument that the people that drink these wines will eventually become fine wine drinkers makes as much sense as saying that Shirley Temples are a gateway to Old Fashioneds.

Monday, November 9, 2009

The infectious wine snob

This weekend, back to back incidents have given me a little perspective on my effect on my friends in regards to their wine snobbery. Not once, but twice, I had people close to me make comments about Yellowtail and 2-buck chuck. while both of these wines are pure plonk and a hindrance to the credibility of fine wine everywhere, I'm a little concerned that I have created a culture of wine criticism around me. I am a critic of practices of dumb-ing down wine. I have a good palate and recognize good wine in a very broad sense and can easily imagine all real world applications. I recognize a great inexpensive wine,and don't for a second feel that all wine needs to be expensive. That said, yellowtail and shaw are crap because they are a confection and sell a lifestyle, not because of their price. Maybe I need to be a little more diligent about explaining this side of it.

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

ahhh, the mouth breathing masses...

*The following is meant to be in good humor, please don't be offended by anything that follows, I realize it comes off as elitist, but hey, it's the wine business.

Insulated by layers of wine geeks, I find myself rarely coming into contact with the average wine consumers. I feel like I have a very good grasp on their habits, preferences, and the influences of the restaurants and retailers in their lives. But I rarely need to actually deal with them. Surprisingly, my home market of Toledo is a really sophisticated wine market with solid tastings on a regular basis hosted by people that love to teach. When I travel, I quickly realize how spoiled I've become. While at a consumer event this week, I couldn't believe the way these people acted around wine. Here is my open letter to wine consumers that attend tastings. If we are worth our salt as wine educators, we will teach each of these people the errors of their ways.

1) Most Important-you don't know as much about wine as I do (caveat-wine consumers only. In the trade, 1000's of you know tons more than I do). This is not a problem. I hope you don't know as much as I do, otherwise I suck. You on the other hand, should stop trying to impress me, and just listen for 3 seconds.

2) Yes, I've been to wine country, no I've never been to (fill in the blank). I'd love to hear all about your picnic drinking (blank winery), but there are 30 people behind you that just want to taste the next wine.

3) Forget you ever heard the word dry, there is no such thing as medium dry. It's a binary system, it is either dry or it isn't. Dry isn't a catch all. If you like sweet wines, just say it.

4) Have an open mind. You already paid for the tasting, quit looking for familiarity, the entire idea is to sample new wines. expand your horizons.

5) Blends are neither good nor bad. The next person that tells me they have started only buying blends is going to get smacked.

6) Don't tell me you love wine, but all you drink is Napa Cab. I already don't like you.

7) No French jokes. You can rip on Italians all you want, and any Southern Hemisphere bashing is encouraged. The French rule! You don't have to like the wines, but understand this is the most important wine country in the world, and if you stopped eating ketchup and drinking soda for 3 seconds you might like their wines.

8) No, 2-Buck Chuck isn't good, it never won any wine tasting competition, and when you think you're smarter than the average bear giving it as a gift, everyone know you're cheap, even if you buy a whole case.

9) Don't give the wine I'm pouring a score. I don't really like most of the people that do it for a living and have infinitely better palates than mine. Just pick up your case of Insignia and leave me alone.

10) You're not at a bar, quit acting like it!

Thanks for letting me air my frustrations. I'm glad I waited 2 days before posting that one, could have been offensive if I didn't have a cool down period...