During these economic times (I can't wait until I don't have to hear that phrase anymore), marketing dollars need to stretch further than ever before. The institution of marketing has turned squarely towards Word of Mouth. The concept that the most effective and sincere way to get depth of sales is through people telling other people about their positive experiences with the brand or product. The challenges with such an approach are numerous. The least of which may be that it's nearly impossible to track. The other is the seeming insincerity of exploiting such behavior.Even with all of the problems, word of mouth can be a very powerful tool. In regards to wine, perhaps even more powerful. The landscape for the wine consumer is very confusing and complex. People don't like to ask for help unless they absolutely need it.If they find a wine they like, they are likely to champion it among their social circles because finding that wine they like in the first place can be a journey. It also can give the consumer the air of credibility within their group.It would seem that the wine marketers and producers should be as eager as any to utilize this inexpensive and effective marketing approach. The obstacles of tracking effectiveness and credibility can be solved in one fell swoop. Open the wine! If you have a great product, the best way to turn people on to your product is to let them taste what's behind the label. If they love it, you get instant feedback. If they buy it, you see the effectiveness.If you tell a good story while tasting the consumer, then they have knowledge to take back to their social circle. If you are promoting your wine and aren't there to actually pour it or talk about it, be damn sure the person that is knows everything inside and out there is to know about your wine. People are just looking for affirmation of what they like, or a reason to like it. The want to be the one to discover it. Getting a handful of consumers to seriously taste may be much more effective than a huge crowd in a grocery store. It's more important to incubate the word of mouth cycle than to sell as many $2 tastes that you can pack into a grocery store on a Saturday afternoon.
One day, 10 years ago, while employed as a buyer for a restaurant in Santa Barbara, a sales rep came in and showed me a Syrah from Washington State. I had tasted a few, but nothing that had impressed me up until that point. In fact, I was having a difficult time finding a good Rhone Varietal outside of France or Santa Barbara. I vividly remember my reaction as I tasted this new WA Syrah. My head was spinning. This was like a biologist discovering a new species. It was Syrah, without a doubt. It was silky and had beautifully balanced sweet fruit tannins. The wine lasted and lasted. It was the 1997 McCrea Cuvee Orleans Syrah (375ml no less!). I immediately added it to my list,and happily hand sold it as long as I could keep it in stock. Somehow this quirky little winery with a funky purple label and I would cross paths a few more time before all was said and done. A few years later, after moving back to Ohio and while traveling for a supplier, I bumped into Susan Neel (né McCrea) in Missouri. We hit it off instantly. I spoke of my love for her wines and told her that I wanted to represent them in Ohio. It took her 2 years to be convinced to sell Walt and I wine (he had also known the wines as he was a Hospice du Rhone Groupie for several years). Eventually Susan started traveling to see us and support our efforts selling the wine,and we became very close. My son even received a birthday present from Susan that was an autographed bottle of Grenache from his birth year saying "Happy Birthday Eli, do not open until 2022! Doug McCrea, winemaker and partner, hails from New Orleans. He and Susan were really the first significant winery producing Rhone varietals in Washington. They started in the late 80's. I'm told they really hit their stride by the mid-90's, and to this day, craft some of the most incredible, elegant version of many of the Rhone grapes. Sleek, elegant and balanced, they have really tapped into and defined the terroir for an entire generation of up and coming wineries. We are very proud to announce the addition of McCrea Cellars to the ampelography portfolio.
One of the thousands of perks of my job is to attend ridiculously cool food and wine events. That was the case this past Sunday when I scored a ticket to a big SOS dinner at Lola. This was no ordinary dinner, guest chefs included Bobby Flay, Jonathon Waxman, Paul Kahan, Jonathon Sawyer and Nate Appleman. The theme was mentors and their students. It's strange to think about Michael Symon or Bobby Flay before they were Iron Chefs when they didn't know anything. Today, they are all experts at what they do. Having mentors is undoubtedly an important part of their success. This event made me think about my mentors over the years in the wine business. I am fortunate to have had many, and the thing I learned more than anything was how to to learn.
In the wine business, there is a tendency to puff your chest out and pretend like you know more than everyone else. This is a sure sign of knowing enough to be dangerous and that's it. I'm sort of arrogant by nature (thank my father), but that shouldn't be confused with acting like I know it all. I was told many years ago that the second you realize how much you don't know about wine is when you begin to really learn about wine. I've always liked this and It has guided me well. I didn't know everything,and will never know everything. But I do know a lot, much of it arcane, but more importantly, I know how much I don't know. It's this attitude of always learning and never feeling like the master that I picked up from many people I thought of as mentors. I'm never afraid to ask questions, and I feel like the cocky wine geeks have forgotten how to ask the question.
I know that Symon et al, are amazing chefs, but they would never call themselves experts, even though they truly are. It's this humility that breeds excellence. It's the patience of a teacher that helps instill the thirst for knowledge. Thank you chefs for reminding me an important lesson, oh, and for the bacon ice cream too!