November 23 and 24 were the punctuation mark on a long cool growing season for Washington grape growers. With temperatures plunging from 30 degrees to -4 degrees and lower in a matter of a few days, vineyard managers were scrambling. As wineries wrapped up the 2010 harvest, doubts about the 2011 harvest lay heavy on many people’s hearts. Much of the damage will be uncertain until Spring but many areas had a lot to be thankful for over the holiday.
Washington grape growers understand hard freeze. With one coming every 5-8 years, this part of the business is nearly unavoidable. Not every region in the state is susceptible to hard freezes. Much of Washington’s grape growing region lies along the moderate temperature control of the mighty Columbia River. There are some vineyard sights in higher elevation, or away from water that can cool off quickly.
Michael Haig, of Spokane’s Whitestone Winery, manages his wineries estate vineyards off of Lake Roosevelt, an area of the Columbia River created by the Grand Coulee Dam. Michael explains the potential devastation of a hard freeze and shows how wineries check the primary, secondary and tertiary buds for damage. What makes this freeze unique and potentially damaging is how early and how quickly the freeze came. Haig says, “Over time the buds will become cold hard, which means as the temperature slowly drops, the buds can withstand colder temperatures.” Michael peels back the layers of the bud to expose a positive sign, green. The primary buds, at Michael’s vineyard, remain intact indicating a full harvest for 2011.
Many vineyard managers I contacted held similar sentiments regarding damage, “I’ll let you know in the Spring.” An article in the Tri-Cities Herald by Andy Perdue paints a grimmer picture in certain areas of the state.
“It’s not pretty,” said Rob Andrews of McKinley Springs Vineyard in the Horse Heaven Hills. “It’s too early to tell 100 percent what is going on, but in the 30 years I’ve been growing grapes, this is the hardest I’ve ever been hit. We’re looking at a tough 2011.”
Preliminary investigation reveals little to moderate damage in most areas with Horse Heaven Hills containing pockets of greater damage. Damage will depend on grape varietal and specific topographical location for many of the vineyard blocks. The results will reveal themselves more fully with the Spring thaw.
The Washington State University Viticulture and Enology program has an informative Cold Hardiness Website that breaks down the potential damage to various grape varieties. According to the site, the more cold hearty varietals include Chardonnay, Pinot Gris, and Riesling. The more fair weather grape varieties are Barbera, Mourvedre, Syrah, Cabernet Sauvignon, and Sangiovese. A mere 5 degrees can separate 10% bud loss from 90% primary bud loss.
During my visit with Michael, he was excited to announce the second annual release of the Pieces on Earth red blend. The wine is one of four wines that make up the Pieces series (Pieces of Red, Love You to Pieces, Scared to Pieces, and Pieces on Earth). The predominately Cabernet blend is available for a limited time and has a special holiday label. The medium bodied blend has a balanced structure of dark red fruit, coffee, cigar box, and moderate cedar. The tannins are well integrated and perfect for enjoying now or with your upcoming holiday dinner. At $20, this is a solid 3+/5
Whitestone will be releasing their 2007 Merlot on December 17. From Michael:
“This is our most coveted and award winning wine. In blind competition, our Merlot has won gold at every major wine competition in the United States, along with being named Top Merlot for the State of Washington. The 2007 vintage features rich textures of leather and spice adding deep texture to rich raspberry and currant. Ripe tannins find harmonious balance in this well structured wine, which finishes off with a long, smooth after taste. $26 bottle”
Whitestone’s Spokane tasting room is located at 111 S. Cedar and is open Noon – 6pm Thursday – Saturday. Watch their Facebook page for special events and live music when they‘re open until 9pm.
Wine blogging is a tangled vine of mystery, intrigue, passion, eroticism, and cow horns. Topics like bio-dynamics, Robert Parker’s 100 point system, the use of sulfites and stolen grapes stir the tank of controversy on a daily basis. Once one enters under the canopy of darkness…there is little hope of making it out alive (or at least with white teeth).
Since when did mixing commerce with blogging become the antithesis to credibility? The medium of blogging affords a great freedom in expression and also lends itself to a speed that cannot exist in traditional media. Bloggers were first to respond and report on the Great Grape Caper of 2010 when Grande Reve Mourvedre was stolen. You wouldn’t find stories like, “Steve Tanzer is a Jackass” in Wine Spectator. As the evolution of online publishing continues, many of these amateur bloggers are going “pro.” This begs the question, “Does the addition of commerce lessen the transparency, credibility, and passion of the posts?”
In the wine world, Gary Vaynerchuk sticks out as the John the Baptist who blazed the trail for social media success. The seeming King of All Social Media has built an empire by cashing in on his passion for wine. Many people, yours truly included, have been inspired by his story. Do you trust Gary’s daily Wine Library TV reviews any less because he is a retailer? He certainly seems genuine, and yes a little excited, but he has earned our trust. Bloggers like Joe Roberts (1WineDude) are going pro in 2011. We all followed the journey of Hardy Wallace on his quest for a really Goode job. Does the fact that he was schlepping corporate wine lessen his zany passion? A slew of other bloggers are turning pro:
- Catie McIntyre Walker has turned her alter ego, Wild Walla Walla Wine Woman into Walla Walla’s first dedicated retail wine store.
- Ed Thralls, of Wine Tonite, juked, jived and maneuvered from Atlanta to Santa Rosa by combining his offline talents with his online prowess to land a job at Vintage Wine Estates as the top social media monkey there.
- Rick Bakas spent a very public and prominent 18 months as the Director of Social Media at St. Supery. During his time he grew the brand’s online presence which translated into offline accounts and sales. After writing the book, Quick Bites – 75 Savory Tips for Social Media Success, Rick is now growing his new company, Bakas Media.
- Tamara Belgard (Sip With Me), from Portland OR, started her blogging journey with the goal to visit every Oregon tasting room in a year. The blog showcased her marketing and creative background which eventually led to her being hired by Canas Feast Winery.
- The infamous Seattle Wine Gal (Barbara Evans) successfully leveraged her social media skills to build a brand, generate revenue through events and consulting, and eventually land a job at Seattle’s Think Space.
- Some yahoo from Spokane, WA has taken his wine blog from zero to 60 in just over a year resulting in a regionally focused wine magazine and a brick and mortar wine tasting room.
Yesterday, WineBusiness.com featured a post from one of my favorite wine writers, Paul Gregutt. I consider Paul a friend and a mentor but I also considered a statement he made in yesterday’s post to be a friendly challenge.
“Two leading Washington bloggers – the Wild Walla Walla Wine Woman, and DrinkNectar – have opened up a wine shop (Walla Walla) and a tasting room (Spokane) in the past month. Now that their blogs are attached to commercial enterprises, I wonder what the impact will be? Will their transparency and credibility suffer? Will their blogs become more of a tool for commerce and less of a passionate calling?”
Paul, to answer your question – I am no less passionate about why I started my blog now than 12 months ago. While I may be different than others, I started my blog in the passionate pursuit of branding a business. While sooner than I expected, and also different than intended, those businesses are here. I blog about what I like and I blog from my level of wine understanding. Sometimes my wife will say, “You better be careful,” and more recently someone told me, “Josh, you can’t write those sexual innuendo posts now that you are a business owner.” To that, I say, bull shit. I need to stay true to who I am. If I want to describe a Cabernet Sauvignon as, “Your strong-willed woman who likes to show she is in charge. She likes it hot and when you get her going she’ll let down her hair and show you her kinky spicy side,” then I will.
It’s obvious that some of my blog posts will become commerce related. I will use the platform to keep people updated on the business. I am also committed to continuing the type of posts that I’ve done over the last year. One reason I changed to the blog template that I did is to bucket the articles that I write. The new site allows me to surface content on the home page in the categories that I want (currently Nectar Tasting Room, Wine Reviews, and Social Media). Other posts are categorized by using the navigation menus on the site.
Gregutt’s post was less about bloggers going pro and more about the Hosemaster of Wine’s retirement non-event. For those who tune out mindless drivel, Ron Washam, AKA the Hosemaster of Wine masqueraded as a wine blogger and satirist for a while. His childish humor was often deserving of a mild chuckle but usually left me thinking of the schoolyard bully who couldn’t think of anything clever to say so he rehashed the tried and true comedic sub-plots to garner attention.
Washam, through Gregutt’s post says:
“My hunch is the wine blog world will slowly begin to fade, even now it seems there are fewer and fewer comments on blogs, and wineries will eventually stop giving away wine to nobodies, and Social Media ‘Expert’ will have the same clout as Porn ‘Star’ and wine bloggers will be reduced to the level of hell reserved for Trekkies.”
In my opinion, Washam has his head so far up his hose he can’t tell the difference between a poodle and a pincher. Blogging (whatever version it surfaces as) will fade as soon as people are emasculated of their opinions.
So, Paul , how is that for controversy, passion and transparency. Thanks for issuing the challenge.
15 Oct 2010
“If we get a long late breaking Indian summer, this could turn out to be one of the best vintages in 15 years” ~Paul Gregutt, video interview 9/10/10. Much has been written and said about the 2010 Washington State vintage. A warm early spring, then very cool weather in May – June pushed many vineyard locations to be several days and even weeks behind. The mild summer saw very few days with 100 degree temperatures and brought a wetter than usual September. With harvests typically beginning around Labor Day, the cool summer had many vineyard managers and winemakers sweating.
Now, here we sit, half way through October and 2010 could very well turn out to be one of the best Washington wine vintages in recent memory. Everyone is comparing this year to the cool year of 1999. The cool summer led into a lengthy warm stretch in October. The extended time of warm days and cool nights produced some of the best tasting Washington wines we’ve seen. In fact, it was the years of 98, 99, and 2000 that really started to get Washington some national and international attention. Let’s look at a layman’s view of why this vintage could be great.
What does it take to make a good wine? The answer is flavor and balance. The balance between alcohol, acidity and PH is key to good tasting wine. While Washington is a perfect climate for wine, some of our growing regions develop some hot, ripe fruit with a lot of sugar. Vineyard managers let that fruit hang on the vine as long as they can to develop flavor. The high sugar converts to alcohol and you can start to see out of balance wines. Some winemakers counter these problems by adding acid or watering back to bring alcohol levels lower.
For some, 2010 will be great IF
- …the weather holds out. Temperatures in early October extended into the high 70’s and now we’re seeing mid to high 60’s in Walla Walla, Pasco, and Yakima with no rain and only just a slight chance of frost in the Yakima Valley area. It’s very likely we won’t see a freeze until well into November. Many of the warm weather areas (Red Mountain, Wahluke Slope) are mostly harvested. Cooler climates in Chelan, Okanogan, and Columbia Gorge, may be challenged with some of their grape varieties.
- …winemakers pick for flavor rather than waiting for the “numbers” to align. Waiting for your magical 25 brix (sugar level) could prove to be disaster if we’re surprised by a frost. “If you decide to hold out and wait for the brix, you could be in trouble,” says Mike Wade of Fielding Hills. Winemakers need to trust their instincts with the flavor their getting at the vineyards and let the wine balance itself out. The higher acid, lower alcohol wines will make for fantastic cellar wines to store for 10-20 years.
- …winemakers think outside the box (or the barrel). With several amazing vintages in the book, 2005-2009, many winemakers don’t have the experience in dealing with a cool climate extended season year. The string of perfect years made it difficult to make a bad wine. This year, things you learned in school just might not work. In the last cool year 1999, there were 500+ fewer wineries. Chances are many of today’s winemakers don’t have the experience with a cool vintage. Many veteran wine makers, like Gary Figgins of Leonetti Cellars, are excited, “I’ve been waiting for a year like this,” he said. “I’ve been longing for a year like this. It smacks of the old days.” (from Winepress NW 9/23/10)
- …you had a good vineyard manager. Those with the crystal ball went into early and aggressive pruning mode. Good grapes like energy and stress. A skilled vineyard manager and crew went to the fields early and thinned shoots, dropped fruit, and opened up the canopy for heat and airflow. The vineyards that took this approach are seeing low yields with very concentrated flavors even at 22-23 brix. The proactive farming will produce some very flavorful and balanced wines.
As a consumer, what does this mean for you? If the weather holds out for a few more weeks many of the late harvest grapes like Cabernet Sauvignon, Syrah and Malbec will be harvested with amazing flavor and acidity which will lead to lower alcohol, food friendly wines. The added bonus, they’ll be yummy!
For an in-depth look at the ongoing harvest follow Sean Sullivan at www.wawinereport.com
- Wines and Vines Oregon Report
- Nodland Cellars Seven Hills Cabernet
Robert Karl Punch Down; Spokane Wine Magazine
There is a geeky side to grape farming. A little bit of science is blended with hard work to create each artistic glass we drink. As we follow the 2010 Barrister Winery Sagemoor Cabernet Sauvignon from the grape to the glass, we dive into the science inside the grape. In part one of the series (From the Grape to the Glass Pt1 Progress Reports) Greg Lipsker, co-owner and winemaker of Barrister winery, visits the vineyard for a status check on the 2010 fruit. The grapes are undergoing veraison (a process where the green fruit turns purple) and vineyard manager, Derek Way is thinning the shoots to direct more energy to the grape clusters. As harvest nears, Greg makes several trips to Sagemoor, and watches stats online, to monitor the ripening of the fruit and determine the perfect time to harvest.
Part 2 – The Science of Grapes
PH, total acidity, refractometer, and pyrazines; these are not the typical sexy or romantic words you associate with wine, however, they are important terms monitored and used in the process. Sagemoor Vineyard group, north of Pasco, WA, works with 70+ winemakers, including Spokane’s Barrister Winery, in this process. Planted in 1972, the 900 acres along the Columbia River contain some of the oldest vines in the state. General Manager Kent Waliser, and Vineyard Manager Derek Way, provide lab services as the grapes near harvest. The measurements are tracked and made available online so that every winery and winemaker can stay informed on the progress.
During this visit, Greg has his eye three key measurements that will help determine when to harvest the block 9 Cabernet; sugar levels, total acidity, and PH. These three measurements work together and affect the flavor and balance of the wine we enjoy. “In the end it’s all about balance and flavor,” Greg says. 2010 has been unseasonably cool. Way has worked hard to ensure good ripening fruit through aggressive shoot thinning, and cutting out hanging fruit. These efforts allow maximum sunshine on the clusters and drive more energy to the remaining grapes.
While in the vineyard, Greg takes several sugar level readings with a refractometer. The refractometer measures the sugar level (brix) in the grape juice. During fermentation the sugar is converted to alcohol. A grape that is harvested under-ripe can have poor flavor and feel astringent or taste more vegetal. Greg typically harvests his Cabernet Sauvignon at 25 brix. Today’s readings range from 18-20. More sun and more hang time over the next 2-3 weeks will help ripen the grapes to the desired level.
TA (Total Acidity)
Greg collects several clusters of grapes from various sections of the block to be taken back to the lab to measure TA and PH. As grapes ripen, acidity levels drop helping to create a balance in the sweetness and tartness of a wine. These acidity levels also play a large part in balancing the alcohol feel in your mouth. If a wine is high in ABV (alcohol by volume) and low in acidity it can come off feeling hot and disjointed.
At the lab, Horticulture Technician Eddie Garcia presses the collected clusters and uses a sample of the juice to measure the TA. Eddie takes a solution of distilled water and five milliliters of juice and slowly adds sodium hydroxide until the pH meter reads 8.2. Reading the total amount of sodium hydroxide used and multiplying by .15 provides the total acid reading. During this visit TA was still over 1. Greg is looking for this number to be under 1 and preferably in the .80-.89 range.
The final measurement is pH. As the grape ripens, winemakers are looking for the right balance of pH in relation to the acidity. pH can play a role in the longevity of a wine as well as how it feels in the mouth. To get this reading, Ramirez takes a new sample of juice, and uses a pH reader to measure the sample. The pH reading is just over 3. This number will rise to between 3.5 and 3.7 providing the balance that Barrister Winery is looking for in their wine.
Overall, Greg is pleased with how the grapes are progressing. The flavor is nice and the sugar levels are coming along, in spite of the cool year. The 15 day forecast is calling for an extended period of temperatures in the mid and upper 70’s. The grapes love the sun.
What is your goal? As a wine business you want to sell more wine; engage more customers; improve customer service; encourage education and awareness. How can emerging technology help accomplish these things? Technology and wine are not unfamiliar bedfellows. Many wineries have looked to technology solutions for years.
- Database and inventory management with improved point of sale systems.
- Reward card programs that reward loyal customers. Cards and purchases are tracked through technology solutions.
- Tasting room kiosks that can help educate customers and improve service when staff is not available.
- Credit card terminals to assist in quicker transactions
- SMS text based coupon subscription services that push news and sales to customers
- Integrated relationship marketing strategies through Twitter, Facebook Foursquare, etc
Enter the Apple iPad; an interactive, cool, hip and customizable tool that is opening a myriad of potential technology solutions. Is the iPad the next evolution of technology solutions in business?
Lately I’ve been researching the use of an iPad as a technology solution for a future business. I was first turned on to the idea by an article I read on Tom Wark’s Fermentation (Daily Wine Blog) about Pithy Little Wine Company’s use of iPad’s in their tasting room. The article got my head spinning about the potential uses. While PLWC is not the first to use iPad’s in the wine business, their straight forward approach got me thinking about technology solutions that could drive sales, increase engagement, and assist with wine education.
Other recent articles in the New York Times (highlighting Atlanta’s Bones Steakhouse use of the iPad as their wine menu), and SF Gate (showcasing Barbacco’s electronic wine list) show that this technology trend is taking hold. Should you use an iPad type product in your winery, tasting room or restaurant?
Almost an Apple Convert
I am the last person you would expect to be thinking about drinking the Apple Kool-Aid. I’m a fan of the open architecture, non-proprietary, affordable and trustworthy PC. Apple has done a fantastic job in their slanderous marketing efforts to convince consumers that PC’s are prone to instability and are filled with malware and bugs. I’ve been known to dream of the malicious worm that would rot the sweet Apple success. Immune to the iPod, not swayed by the Mac, resistant to the iPhone’s spell, the iPad is the sole product that has me leaning to the dark side of the computing world.
Technology Solutions Not Gimmicks
Use of technology as a gimmick will be short lived, use of technology as a solution can have a long term impact. Whether it’s a Window’s based tablet (of which a well made one does not exist) or an iPad, I believe these portable devices present several solutions for winery tasting rooms.
Capturing customer information is always a high priority for businesses. Date of birth, zip code, email address, mailing address, social media contacts are all part of the holy grail of information. If used properly, a well made iPad application will allow customers to “like” you on Facebook, write on your wall while tasting your wine, sign up for your e-mail list, register for your wine club, and send a tweet about their experience. A soft, opt-in experience of this information is sticky and helps develop long term brand ambassadors. – iSolution
Tasting rooms can be busy places. The staff may not always be able to answer every customer question. Technology can never effectively replace personal interaction but well integrated use can exponentially increase the opportunity for education. I envision an iPad application that lets customers learn about each wine on the menu, explore tasting notes, and even potentially see a quick video about the wine. The ability to communicate your winery history, vineyard stories, and latest news can create a personal connection that extends beyond the tasting room experience. – iSolution
Stay and Play
My business model involves my tag line, “enjoy life with friends…drink happy.” I want to give people reasons to stay and play. The more stay and play, the more wine sales. While technology is not the only solution, it can certainly be a piece of the puzzle. Art, live music, board games, and wireless connectivity are other pieces of the stay and play puzzle too. The iPad opens up a world of gaming potential and other online activity. While some customers may certainly abuse the use of the tool, the benefits far outweigh the cons. – iSolution
Sales and Experience
At the end of the day, any technology solution must either improve efficiency that leads to lower expense or increase productivity that leads to higher sales. We’re not in business to create hip, trendy geek hangouts. We’re in business to sell a product or experience. The right use of technology can add to the experience in such a way that improves sales AND efficiency. The added benefits of an iPad in the tasting room can sell wine club membership, track inventory, target specials, and highlight events. Increased engagement has a direct correlation to sales. Technology can be a silent salesperson when you’re not there. It can be a self-service voice to the intimidated wine novice. It can be an added driver to brand loyalty. It can be the added experience that drives repeat business. - iSolution
Currently, iPads are a novelty in a handful of restaurants and wine tasting rooms. Over time, they will become common place. Those that use the technology as a part of their overall strategy will see great success. Those relying on the gimmick or techie appeal will see the impact die off quickly. Comments on articles I read during my research focused on three common problems that should be kept in mind if implementing this (or any) technology solution.
- Shrinkage – At $500 each, the iPad is a portable product that without the proper controls could be an expensive menu to walk out the door.
- Personal Connection – Don’t let the use of technology replace real human interaction and connection. Technology as a supplement to personal connection can be a powerful team.
- Simplicity – Make sure the use of the technology is intuitive and well thought out. Requiring users to navigate menu after menu to get to their decision can have a counterproductive effect. Think through your layout. This article in the New York Journal discusses the problems with poor iPad menu use.
Yes, it is true, apples and grapes can make a technology blend that improves customer loyalty and drives sales. Potential uses are mind blowing. Hopefully this post has given you some food for thought for how you could use the iPad or other technology solutions in the winery tasting room. As I continue my research for the pending use, I’ll keep you updated on the progress. If you’re a developer, let’s chat. I’ve got ideas.