Tag Archives: Wine Industry

Breaking Down Winemaking Styles

During a recent trip to Napa-Sonoma, California, I had the opportunity to interview several winemakers and talk with tasting room managers in the premium wine segment.  The discussion produced a large amount of material, but a few ideas stood out. One question continued to run over and over in my mind:  does a winery begin with some sort of vision for the final product?  If so, how does it come to be…

Is Wine Style Part of the Business Plan?


**INSERT Dilbert cartoon HERE** ©Scott Adams


Folks, I am not able to include this Dilbert cartoon, but you simply must click on this Link and check it out.  Funny stuff and right on point for this commentary.  This cartoon was excerpted from: Washington Business Journal, “Is your vision statement for real?”, Mar 17, 2011, Link Here.  Good read!  Unfortunately, even non-profit commentary use must still respect creative property!


The Vision

In the over $25/btl retail segment, I would say the wine itself easily contributes 2/3 (or more) to the brand identity.  Can you develop a brand, without developing a vision for the product?  I find this kind of discussion fascinating…

Is it important for employees and customers to understand that vision?

Should a Winery Have a “Wine Style”?

Every winery has a story to tell that differentiates them from the thousands of other producers in the marketplace.  That story is the cornerstone of each label.  So, what does this have to do with winemaking? Everything!  The questions posed in these interviews uncovered a glimpse into that underlying vision and ultimately how they wish their wines to be perceived by both their own organization and the consumer.

Why would an owner choose the difficult premium wine segment of the market in the first place?  There must be a calling, or a passion driving that decision?  Framing that story in a way that can capture a wine enthusiast’s imagination… is a message worth crafting.  So, where could wine style fit into this picture?  In this price category, more than any fancy, gimicky label design, or strategic marketing plan, the wine itself defines the brand.  If this thinking is sound, then the style of wine produced IS the winery’s identity.  Following this logic, finding a way to bring the story behind making the wine directly to the consumer is absolutely critical to building the brand.  If you look at wineries in this way, what stories do they have in common?  After interviewing enough winemakers / owners, you start to see commonalities.  In my opinion, the choice of wine style seems to manifest in one of three different ways:

1.  Begin With the Quality of the Fruit  –  Wine should express the character of the fruit and Terroir

  • This is the winemaker as viticulturist view.  Requires an emphasis on the wine growing.  With a complementary view of nurturing the vines to produce supreme quality fruit.  This is best implemented in an estate winery situation.

Impact on the Wine – Tends to add complexity and layering of flavors.  These wines often have a more defined mid-palate. This style is frequently made to be fruit-forward and emphasizes clarity and freshness.  This approach will usually drive good structure, but may not emphasize balance and often has a varietally correct flavor profile.  This style is typified by the winemaker as farmer – often with formal training in biology, botany, or agriculture and the winemaker leans heavily on learning his trade through internships and experience.

2.  Begin With Analyzing the Fruit  –  Better wine through better chemistry

  • This is the winemaker as technologist view.  Monitor and measure everything.  Wine is a mixture of chemical components and the optimum desired profile can be identified and reproduced.

Impact on the Wine – Brings more consistent quality.  These wines tend to focus on correct ratios.  There is rarely a desired component missing, but the product can often lack finesse.  Tannins, acidity, alcohol, phenolic development all carefully measured to arrive at the optimal formula generally accepted by the industry.  This style is typified by the winemaker with a UC Davis MS in Enology, who has taken the technological training completely to heart.

3.  Begin at the End  –  Start with a clear vision for the final product

  • This is the winemaker as artist view.  Where the winemaker is the star and bringer of quality.  This demands a winemaker as leader, who can leverage a history of experience, knowledge and technique to drive the wine to match his vision.

Impact on the Wine – These wines tend to be either elegant and composed, or knock your socks off with a focused over-the-top approach.  Focusing on the elegant approach…  Whether, or not the fruit is up to muster, these winemakers find a way to make the wine balanced and have great mouth-feel.  These most often are classically styled wines, with good structure, acidity, tannins and texture.  Flavors and aromas are less of an emphasis.  This style is typified by the winemaker as the leader and star – having a decade, or two of experience, always knowing the right decision to make, regardless of vintage variation.

Most wineries mix some combination of these ideas, but one of these philosophies typically shines through.

Does One Style Produce Better Wine?

The answer is most definitely no, but the wines within each style category do tend to have similar characteristics.  I enjoy wines in my cellar from producers that fall into all three categories, depending on my mood.

As a consumer, does identifying the story behind your favorite winery matter?

This time the answer is most definitely yes.  If you are like myself and many of the wine enthusiasts I know, we enjoy quality wines, but like to vary flavors and styles.  You may recognize these different styles in your favorite wines.

I have always found this to be sound advice:  “The key to finding new wines you are likely to enjoy, is to track the winemakers and vineyards.”  Pay attention to this information for your favorite wines and it will help you find other labels worth trying.  Connecting to the story behind your favorite winemakers and favorite vineyards can make your wine appreciation much richer.


Filed under Wine Education, Wine Industry, Wine Tasting, Winemaker Interview

2014 Napa–Sonoma Winemaking Trends

'I'm not putting it out. There's enough oak in this Chardonnay to keep this fire going all night.'

Source Material

I have interviewed 12 winemakers from the area by phone and in-person over the past few months.  Many have been from very well-known, high-profile producers. The material has provided a few new perspectives.  Some of these observations may only apply to estate wineries where there is more control over wine growing strategies, while others are specific to the winemaking.  I will not compare individual winemakers, or wineries.  It would be an injustice to each of them.  Although, I will be making an effort to tell each of their stories in separate pieces later.

Recent Winemaking Trends in Premium Wines

More Block Harvesting and Corresponding Small Lot Fermentation

I am running into this strategy at more estate wineries and if they are not already doing it, they are thinking about it.  Separately fermenting smaller, individually harvested, vineyard lots is happening more in this region than ever before.  Wineries are making a major investment in large numbers of smaller fermentation tanks, moving away from the full harvest approach and much larger tanks.  This trend is allowing winemakers to more effectively capture the individual character of fruit grown within differing micro-terroirs in individually fermented batch lots used for later blending.

Impact on the Wine –  Improved complexity and structure. Isolating individual characteristics from the fruit to bring a greater sense of unique “place” to the wine.

Winemakers Exerting Greater Influence on Viticulture

Estate Winemakers are insisting on more input into the decisions in the vineyard.  They are investigating different micro-climates and soil types on a much smaller scale than ever before.  This trend is increasing their influence with viticultural decisions that affect the final product such as:  separate farming and harvesting of individual vineyard blocks, row orientation, irrigation and pruning strategies (or lack of), etc.

Impact on the Wine – Better planning to accommodate vintage variation.  Ability to experiment with vineyard practices that can compliment the style of wine being made.

Varying the Harvest Timing with Small Block Harvesting

This is a bit controversial, but I am hearing it being discussed more.  Harvest timing is one of the major decisions affecting the wine.  It can effect tannins, acidity and phenolics… blending individual lots harvested at different times can change many characteristics of the final product, for example:

  • Tannins – Earlier harvest can make tannins more rustic.  Also, the ripeness of the pips can have a huge impact on the texture of the tannins (dusty, grainy, rounder, etc.).
  • Acidity – Earlier harvest can often provide increased acidity.
  • Phenolics – This is the touchy-feely area of this practice.  Identifying the preferred level of phenolic development is as much art, as science, but there is no doubt ripeness affects this category too.
  • Sugar – Harvest timing will effect the amount of sugars in the juice.

Impact on the Wine – Virtually all aspects of the wine’s character are potentially affected by this.

Less Interaction with the Wine During Production

This philosophy is leading to experimentation. Here are a few techniques that are being used, or discussed more frequently:

  • More wineries are moving to automated pump-over closed tank fermentation, versus open container punch-down.  Some industry folk say punch-down “shocks” the wine.  I have been paying closer attention to this in the past year, after seeing its widespread use during a trip to Italian wine country last year.
  • Lots of discussion going on regarding the need for extended cold-soak prior to ferment to extract color.
  • More natural yeast fermentation, instead of inoculation.
  • Lighter pressing of the fruit. One winemaker talked of just using gravity to press the first-run juice.
  • Skipping removal of the lees after ferment and waiting until a later date to separate the wine.
  • Controlling temperature to slow down the duration of the ferment.
  • Less fining and filtering, which reduces the amount of pumping and moving of the wine.

Impact on the Wine – The intangibles seem to be most affected by this approach.  These techniques may soften the attack of the wine, add elegance and affect mouth-feel.

Extended Maceration for Red Wine

This relates to extending the contact of the wine with the skins and sometimes the lees and/or stems. I actually spoke to one winemaker that talked of 60 days for ferment and maceration.  The more traditional thinking is 10-15 days…  This is expensive for wineries.  It requires either investment in more fermentation tanks, or reducing capacity for production.  Several winemakers spoke of wanting to experiment with this for whites too.

Impact on the Wine – Differing opinions on this, but for my palate, it changes the character of the tannins substantially and at the same time adds complexity.  I am not sure there is more extraction, but it definitely affects the texture.

Whole Cluster Fermentation for Red Wine

This technique requires using the whole grape cluster (stems and all) for the ferment, rather than the usual de-stemmed berries.  Almost all winemakers I talked to were including a percentage of their blend with wine fermented this way.  Several winemakers claimed that a whole cluster ferment by definition will add natural carbonic maceration to the mix.  Some of these wines do appear to be more aromatic…

Impact on the Wine – It may add more of a mid-palate to some wines.  Often, these wines seem to have a fresher, fruitier character (carbonic maceration?).  Bottom line, these wines ARE more complex, but better complex?  Some winemakers claim it has much to do with the terroir.  Apparently, some terroirs do not produce fruit that works well with this process.

Focus on Balance

Ah, the holy grail of wine!  For so many years Napa producers have been known for their big, extracted, high alcohol cabs.  I think the pendulum is finally starting to swing back a bit.  While these producers will never move back to the true French Bordeaux style, more winemakers are talking of balance and I am starting to taste it in more Napa wines.  A beautiful trend!


It is so good to see sophisticated wine palates (winemakers) changing the decisions being made in the vineyard.  While vineyard management is certainly farming, having a trained palate influencing the approach for each individual block and making adjustments for each vintage… is a very, very good thing for the industry.

Many of these techniques and ideas have been around the industry a very long time, but tend to be newly adopted in areas of California.  To be fair, not all winemakers are fans of this direction and produce fantastic wines anyway.  A clear indication of how much there is still to learn, about growing and making wine.

Why are following these trends important?

  • For Wine Enthusiasts – It may help you:
    • Identify techniques that produce wines you prefer
    • Build a dialogue with your favorite wineries
    • Understanding a winery’s approach, may help you to understand which labels match your palate
  • For Industry Professionals – Understanding how influential wine producing regions are changing their thinking is important to:
    • Wine pairing decisions
    • Building context for a strategy to develop a commercial wine list representative of a broad range of styles
    • A glimpse into the future of where the industry is headed


P.S. – I hope folks are enjoying these kind of pieces.  I don’t see much written that tries to make the technical more accessible and relevant to the public audience.    HAPPY HOLIDAYS AND BEST WISHES TO YOU AND YOUR FAMILIES!

1 Comment

Filed under Wine Education, Wine Industry, Winemaker Interview

New and Old World Style Food – Wine Pairings?

Cartoon Bar-minister-priest-rabbi

A Frenchman Walks into a Bar in Mendocino, and…

My wife and I were recently in a winery tasting room in Mendocino County enjoying several wines and a gentleman from France joined us at the tasting bar.  This producer happened to offer a cool-climate Syrah mixed with 20% cool-climate Zinfandel and Viognier.  A very light style of wine, with the Zin adding a brighter red fruit character.  I remarked that I wished I had a bottle of this wine to pair with our Turkey and stuffing dinner from a few nights before… and wow, both the attendant and the Frenchman laughed out loud!

Is Food & Wine Pairing THAT Different in the U.S.?

At the time, I didn’t think much of it, but it stuck with me and eventually had me thinking about the nature of food – wine pairings.  Is a Sommelier‘s job different in Europe vs. the United States?  Does the European restaurant patron look for something different, than their American counterpart?  I began turning over my Somm training in my head and realized, there really are two separate and distinct points of view to this discussion:

1st View

When pairing with foods, wines should contribute to mouth-feel, exhibit balance to complement the food textures, but primarily – the wine should clear the palate between bites.  The idea being: clearing the palate with wine allows you to fully experience the flavors of the food in each bite.

2nd View

When pairing with foods, wine should compliment the flavors in the food and ENHANCE its enjoyment.  In this case, a wine is selected based on pairing the wine and food flavors so the whole is tastier than the parts.

I know EXACTLY what that Frenchman was thinking… in his mind, that fruit-forward wine interfered with the taste of the food.  I thought back to his preferred wines at the tasting bar.  He purchased the most acidic Pinot Noir that was the least fruity and the best balanced (BTW, I enjoyed it too).  His thinking regarding the pairing was completely at odds with mine.  Lighter Zins (with good acidity) are a great pairing with turkey and gravy, because the wine compliments the food.  These two people were so against that kind of thinking, that they had laughed when it was suggested.  A strange experience, but very instructive.

Another Wine Job That Requires an Understanding of Cultural Preferences?

Sometime back, I wrote a piece on the cultural differences affecting the wine marketing and media manager position.  So, now the Somm position is affected by this too?  OK, I am not saying my preference here matches everyone in the U.S., but the wine education training I have done, has shown it to be true – at least in my small sample.  Does this mean Somm training and certification should include the regional and cultural preferences of local wine consumers, NOT just regional cuisine?  Could this also mean, there is no one definitive training approach to content that will apply to both the Old and New Worlds?


For the professional Somms reading this, what has your experience been?  Am I painting to broad a brush on the issue? I don’t read much talk about this on wine related websites.  Is this observation and discussion relevant?


Filed under Food Pairing, Sommelier, Wine Education, Wine Industry, Wine Tasting

A Wine Experiment – Naked Wines: The GOOD and BAD in the Wine Industry

What is Naked Wines?

Naked Wines is introducing a revolutionary concept to the Wine Industry.  The premise is to provide crowd source funding to bankroll winemakers, so they can focus on the winemaking and consequently offer lower prices to the consumer.  The company was founded in 2008 in the UK. The strategy includes a website where:

  • Consumer members preferences are tracked
  • Consumers can interact with the winemakers
  • Consumers can offer reviews and feedback on the wines

This captures the advantages of social media and the internet and brings it to the wine industry.  The concept also effectively brings the winemakers closer to their customers, allowing them to hone their craft and tailor the product to meet demand.  The “Angels”, as the investors / members are called, are required to submit $40 USD/mo. to provide seed money and then in return they receive discounted prices on the resulting wine when released.  Naked Wines interviews and accepts winemaker members upon application based on qualifications, experience and training.

Visit and Interview

During our trip to the Northern California Wine Country, I stopped in to talk with Kirsten Bragg the tasting room manager for Naked Wines in Sonoma County, CA.  The following information was offered by Kirsten and has not been verified:

  • Roughly 1,500 winemakers are involved from around the world producing less than 1000 cases of wine each
  • 30,000+ “Angels” contribute to the program

According to Kirsten, the growth has been mercurial and forced them to begin a waiting list to allow the organization to keep pace with demand.

Understanding Winery Costs

Before you can understand the Naked Wines philosophy, it is important to get a feel for typical boutique wine production costs (around 5K cases produced).  These numbers do not reflect table, nor cult wine production costs, but somewhere toward the lower end of the average small winery.  Estate Wineries and Larger Producers (>50K cases produced) have very different cost structures.  Here goes some rough numbers that were taken from several reliable sources:

  • Nor Cal Quality Fruit $4 / bottle cost

  • Oak Barrels – $1 / bottle cost

  • Mobile Bottling & Bottle – $2 / bottle cost

  •  Overhead, Equipment, Debt Service (Sonoma)- $5 / bottle cost

  •  Salaries – $4 / bottle cost

  • Sales & Marketing – $2 / bottle cost

Total Cost per Bottle: $ 18

In the Naked Wines business model, Winemakers may be sharing Overhead and Investment, consolidating Salaries and leveraging joint Sales & Marketing costs – picking up advantages that could drive bottle cost down to $13/btl in this example.  Keep in mind, these numbers are all speculative and just to illustrate a point…  This data is relevant in order to provide a perspective on Kirsten’s comments – when she says, “We are looking to produce wines that will sell in the $15 – $20 per bottle sweet spot in the market.”

This Business Philosophy and Why it Leads Down the Path to the Dark Side

So, nothing wrong with that thinking… “know thy market” (first rule of marketing), but it does take some wind out of the high-minded, lofty vision of “freeing the winemaker to express his/her art” (paraphrasing here).  I like the whole idea, in theory.  This concept establishes a form of Co-Op for winemakers, funding the business by allowing consumers to dictate the successful producers based on their feedback and the demand.  Great stuff! Only, the whole thing goes awry, when you begin to target a price point.  A few reasons:

  • Limiting Winemaker Creativity?

Let’s say, a Winemaker wants to make wine requiring a technique called “extended maceration“, or perhaps barrel-age in French Oak for 12 months.  These ideas add cost to production and would not fit into the “sweet spot” price discussed above. Perhaps, the Winemaker wants to contract for fruit from a grower and dictate yield per acre, harvest timing, or block harvesting fruit at different times.  These approaches add cost to the fruit and require a long-term commitment to a specific vineyard.

  • Unwittingly Dictating Your Own Demand?

Let’s go in another even more important direction. What if offering wines in this specific price range attracts consumers who prefer simple, easy drinking table wines. Nothing wrong with that… but won’t that skew the majority of “Angel” reviews towards that preference and deliberately dictate where the crowd source funding will be spent… on the making of easy drinking table wine?

Are Naked Wines Good?

I tasted several of their wines from different winemakers: sparkling, reds, whites.  All reasonably well made. All generally enjoyable, but nothing that stood out as above average.  Which (unfortunately) is about what I would expect from this approach to making wine.

How Could the Concept be Improved?

There is so much more potential for this idea than is being realized.  In its current form, this Co-Op will inevitably continue to produce reasonably priced, consistently average wines.  I typically choose to purchase wines that are interesting and different, or of exceptional quality and am willing to spend more than $20/btl to access my preferences.  That type of consumer would not be attracted to this model and is the primary limitation of this business approach.  Their community of “Angels” is large enough to begin breaking into individual focus groups and then maybe… it could attract a more representative cross-section of wine consumers.  Is that important?  Certainly not to the success of the business, but if you view wine drinkers as a community (I do), it definitely excludes an influential segment.  Personally, I know I would enjoy feeling part of the production of the wine I drink by offering winemakers my consumer tasting notes, feedback on various techniques used and suggestions on modifying structure, balance, texture and flavor profiles.  This is what internet marketing does best, build relationships and brand loyalty between producers and their customer base.

Added after publishing, from reader feedback…

Business Models

Yes, these kind of creative business ideas are fantastic for the wine community, but with concepts like this that have such broad potential to influence the entire industry and are exclusionary in practice… not sure that is a good thing.  Nothing wrong with targeting a price point in your business model… but perhaps I was personally disappointed.  When I discovered the inherent circular logic driving the demand and consequently where the money is being invested, it was disappointing.  Maybe this piece will not achieve its objective – to provide a viewpoint that broadens the concept further to include the premium slice of the market – but it is worth the effort.  Viewing wine consumers as a community may not be a very popular concept from a business perspective, but I think it has some merit from a marketing point of view.

1 Comment

Filed under Business, Wine Industry, Wine Tasting

Vintage 2014 Event – A Wine and Film Pairing


Link:  http://vintage2014.com/

Location: The Mod – Phoenix, AZ

Event Date: Sunday, November 9, 2014

This event was underwritten by the Santa Barbara County, California producers Buttonwood Farms, Clos Pepe, Byron, Carr, Bien Nacido Vineyards and Riverbench Wineries with the film portion produced by Wil Fernandez. The cinematography was beautiful and the pieces were well edited and offered the background for these wineries from bud-break leading up to the 2014 Harvest. The story was told through the eyes of the Winemakers, Vineyard Managers, Winery Managers and Owners. Wines from several of the wineries covered in the film were tasted at the showing.

Wil captured visually the story I have been trying to tell for some time now… (see recent post: https://coolclimatewine.wordpress.com/2014/11/07/terroir-controversy/).

Estate wineries are very aware of Terroir influences and the winemakers tend to be connected closely to each individual growing season and vintage. This connection is most often just the simple enjoyment of working in and among the vineyards. These people are down-to-earth and talk of their passion for the horticulture and viticulture associated with nurturing the vines. It is the marketing hype and food service functions that add the high-brow approach to the wine experience. If you enjoy the culture of wine, I would highly recommend attending one of these events to visually capture the winegrowing experience! If you contact Wil, I am sure he can provide information regarding future showings.

You can reach the film maker Wil at: me@wilfernandez.com.


 Nice SB and Chard. This area makes some of the best quality value whites in CA.
  • 2012 Buttonwood Sauvignon Blanc

    USA, California, Central Coast, Santa Ynez Valley

    93% Sauv Blanc and 7% Semillon. The Semillon is fermented in S.S. and then barrel-aged. The Sauv Blanc is fermented and aged in S.S. Aged on the lees according to winery manager in attendance.

    Typical better quality California SB. Grass and citrus on the nose. Solid acidity would contribute to a great pairing with seafood, or salad. The palate is full of lemon and grapefruit, with a touch of butter on the finish. Crisp texture, but with a slightly bigger mouth-feel from the lees.

  • 2013 Riverbench Vineyard & Winery Chardonnay Bedrock Riverbench Vineyard

    USA, California, Central Coast, Santa Maria Valley

    100% S.S. and aged on the lees according to winery manager in attendance.

    Strong lemon on the nose. Palate of lemon curd with a noticeable finish of banana. Interesting salinity from beginning to end. Strong acidity. The lees soften the crisp mouth-feel somewhat. Good complexity here, if that is your style. I enjoyed this wine.


Disappointed with the Pinot showing here. These producers either were not tasting their better products, or have not jumped onboard with the idea of Terroir influenced wines.

  • 2012 Byron Pinot Noir

    USA, California, Central Coast, Santa Barbara County

    Brown butter and butterscotch on the nose. Light, watery soft texture. Very simple on the attack. Palate is mostly black, with some red cherry, and butterscotch, but is very subtle and barely fruit forward. Mid-palate has some dark chocolate with virtually no finish. Overly manipulated Pinot Noir, that fortunately has been made not to overwhelm. Difficult to get past the heavy toasted oak.

  • 2010 Bien Nacido Vineyards Pinot Noir Santa Maria Valley

    USA, California, Central Coast, Santa Maria Valley

    Bright red cherry on the nose. Initially peppery on the palate, with a sweet red cherry mid-palate and virtually no finish. With all the sweet red cherry, this wine could have been better focusing on a crisp, fresh quality. Drinkable, but doesn’t quite come together.


Carr makes a few of the better vineyard designate Syrahs in Santa Barbara County, but this one didn’t have the mojo. The Cab Franc… now, that was some great stuff and a good value too!

  • 2012 Carr Vineyards & Winery Syrah

    USA, California, Central Coast, Santa Barbara County

    Weak nose. The palate is fruit-forward with boysenberry, red cherry and sweet raspberry with a buttery finish. Medium-high acidity. Watery mouth-feel. Medium tannins. Very simple profile. Carr produces some wonderful single vineyard Syrahs, but this missed the mark.

  • 2011 Carr Vineyards & Winery Cabernet Franc Camp Four Vineyard

    USA, California, Central Coast, Santa Ynez Valley

    Nothing like a wine with a floral nose… Nose full of violets, red plum and black pepper. Silky soft mouth-feel. Medium tannins and medium-high acidity. Palate of plum, blackberry and spice with a medium-long dark chocolate finish. Carr makes very enjoyable, reasonably priced, drink-now Cabernet Franc. Enjoy!

Comments Off on Vintage 2014 Event – A Wine and Film Pairing

Filed under Cool Climate Wine, Santa Barbara County, U.S. Wines by Region, Wine Industry, Wine Tasting, Wine Tasting Notes

Terroir Controversy


Terroir – Webster Dictionary Definition:

“The combination of factors including soil, climate, and sunlight that gives wine grapes their distinctive character.”

What a simplistic explanation!  Does “soil” include proper drainage, or the angle of the grade?  Does “climate” include the daily temperature variation?  Does “sunlight” include the degree of latitude?  All of this and much more make up the definition of Terroir.  I can think of other related factors: the altitude of the vineyard, are the vineyards terraced, is the vineyard in full sunlight, or shaded at times, etc…

'Bruce! 'ow many times must I tell 'ya? Only one wave of the bloomin' terroir flag over the fruit!'

Is Terroir a Real Concept?

“Terroir” has been one of the most misunderstood and controversial concepts in the wine industry, since vineyards began popping up all over the New World.  It has been a critical part of the tradition of European winemaking from it’s very beginnings.  European wines have always been more about “Place”, than Varietal.  New World skeptics continually site the lack of scientific data that supports the chemical impact of soil composition on flavors developed in wine grapes… completely absurd! Whether, or not the chemistry supports it, your palate can taste it.  Most contrary opinions point to the soil component, when Terroir is actually so much more.  Soil is just a small piece of the vineyard conditions that impact the character of wine.

'That may be what the wine glossary says, but to me, terroir means a fantatic view.'

A Personal Connection to Terroir

I usually recall most wines by either vineyard, or winery location, or the underlying experience, rather than the flavor.  I prefer wines aged in neutral oak, rather than new oak, so the fruit can express itself fully.  When I taste acidity, I see morning fog in the vineyards.  When I taste savory flavors, I think cooler climate.  When I taste concentration, I think small berries and making the vines work hard to ripen…  There is more to the impact of Terroir, than just added minerality.  Sometimes, when I sit alone enjoying a well made wine, I try to visualize the vineyard from the character of the wine.  Focusing on “Place” can truly enhance your enjoyment of wine, if you embrace the idea.

Why Does Terroir Matter?

UC – Davis has added so much to the world of wine in the last decade and it is exactly that influence that has swung the pendulum too far.  A scientific approach to wine can foster a dependence on chemistry alone in making decisions impacting the final product.  I have been looking at this issue for many years now and have come to the conclusion:  the making of wine is definitely equal parts science and art.  Two prominent winemakers I interviewed this year (Kathleen Inman and Todd Anderson) embrace this kind of thinking.  Their ideas are interesting and worth sharing, because they focus winemaking on the result (not the process).  This winemaking strategy requires starting with a vision, even before bud-break.  In my experience, this alternative view is more likely to produce balanced and structured wines with a textural component. That last piece is too often missing from wines today.

So, where does this topic fit into the idea of Terroir?  Very simple… a poor understanding of the fruit and its influences will cause poor winemaking decisions.  Winemakers cannot express the art in their craft, without an understanding of the Terroir that has produced the fruit.  I will take this even one step further… Terroir is not a fixed concept.  Vintage variation from year-over-year of climate change can influence the sense of “Place” that wine brings.  If these ideas are starting to connect, you will realize vintage variation is NOT such a bad thing.  It just ties you closer to “Place”.  When a winemaker works with climate variation (instead of fighting it), some years the wines are silky instead of velvetty, lighter instead of heavier bodied, or have soft instead of chewy tannins.  Personally, I enjoy most wine styles and can really appreciate that diversity, often coming from the same vineyard each year.

'As Chuck's definition of terroir dragged past the 20-minute mark, Suzy concluded, the longer the explanation, the less likely you know what the word means.'

Are We All Tired of This Discussion?

Everyone associated with wine in any way has probably had this discussion at one time, or another… and is probably tired of the topic.  Please don’t lose your patience, it is much more important than you may realize.  It could even hold the key to introducing an appreciation of premium wines to the average consumer.  If my introduction to wine was any indication, I was appreciating Terroir long before I even knew the word.  I enjoyed wine country vacations for many years, before I understood what I was drinking.

Humor me for a second… visualize:

  • sitting in a rocking chair at sunset
  • on a porch overlooking row upon row of vineyard
  • enjoying a glass of wine

It just sort of warms the soul!  I think there are more consumers that would connect with this experience than the industry realizes.

Now stop and ask yourself:  

  • Did you choose a location for that view?
  • Did a specific wine, or style come to mind?

Wine can enrich life, but you must choose the path and open your mind… a few other people through history agree with me:


“If you have to ask if it’s too early to drink wine, you’re an amateur and we can’t be friends.” – Anonymous

  • I will have to use this one next time I visit Napa…

“Good company, good wine, good welcome, can make good people.” – Shakespeare

“Wine is more than a beverage, it’s a lifestyle.” – Anonymous

“Wine to me is passion. It’s family and friends. It’s warmth of heart and generosity of spirit. Wine is art. It’s culture. It is the essence of civilization and the art of living.” – Robert Mondavi

  • This is a great quote. He was able to put into words the affect wine had on his life.

“Great wine requires a madman to grow the vine, a wise man to watch over it, a lucid poet to make it, and a lover to drink it.” – Salvador Dali

“Wine is sure proof that God loves us and wants us to be happy.” – Benjamin Franklin

1 Comment

Filed under Wine Education, Wine Industry, Wine Tasting, Wine Travel

Wine Marketing – The Gap Between Europe and the U.S.


Can European Wine Producers Access the Mainstream U.S. Market?

I have two acquaintances from Europe on a work visa here in the States.  It is always interesting to hear their perspective on wine.  They view wine very differently than the majority of my U.S. friends.  When I am looking for someone to explore and appreciate the complexities of Northern Rhone, or Burgundy with me…  it is rarely my U.S. friends.  Decades of high Robert Parker scores have been driving demand for high alcohol, big oak and rich mouth-feel and have skewed the high-dollar U.S. Cabernet market towards palates that have been trained to demand it.  I know, because that was mine back in the day.  It’s all good though.  I have come to enjoy both the big & bold and lighter complex styles.  Although I must say, the wines that fill that special place for me are often the more balanced lighter wines of Italian origin.  With such major differences in style preference between here and there, can a wine executive from Europe having grown up with a different wine sensibility…  truly understand the American consumer?

Many Europeans Experience Wine as an Accompaniment to Food

Until 2010, I primarily drank wine before, or after a meal, but rarely with. Based on my friends, acquaintances and wine education events, this is the primary wine experience for the majority of Americans.  It wasn’t until my Sommelier training that I was introduced to the idea of wine as an accompaniment to food.  Too many U.S. consumers evaluate wines and make buy decisions based on tasting without paired food.  I don’t believe this is well understood by wine industry executives in Europe. The popularity of the big fruit-forward taste profile in the U.S. is a good barometer for this discussion.

Is There an Assumption of Basic Wine Knowledge?

There are a few points to make on this topic. Wine is a common fixture on most French, Italian and Spanish dinner tables, consequently children are exposed to wine at a very early age.  This leads to basic wine knowledge being assumed by many Europeans.  In addition, branding regional food and wine by city, or area name is well understood there. In the U.S., this is a confusing and foreign concept. Until another approach to marketing is developed, the under $50/btl. retail wine market here will continue to be an elusive target for European producers.

Many Europeans might cringe at the idea that the most popular food dish in America is probably boxed mac & cheese.  The foodie movement is a relatively new trend here.  Working with consumers in the U.S. means starting with people from the ground up and building demand with little steps.

Red Wine Health Benefits Comic

Are European Producers Targeting Only U.S. Collectors and Connoisseurs?

Importing marketing, or sales professionals from Europe is a thoroughly misguided idea… unless you are trying to target the 5% of the total market (by volume) that are the collectors and connoisseurs. I have had only a few experiences with Europeans in a sales role for wineries in the U.S.  They have all been French and were the singular worst experiences I have had during all my wine trips to California over the years.

Changing the American Wine Paradigm

The challenge in the American market is convincing the average consumer that wine is not just for special occasions and holidays… or… is not just a glass on tap (yes, most winebars are now serving on tap) with friends before, or after dinner.

Wine Wimp


The more I talk to people in wine marketing in the U.S., the more I realize how misguided many are… and how absolutely correct the winemakers usually are… winemakers and vineyard managers are just farmers at heart.  It is this wine for the “regular Joe” story that resonates with the average American Consumer. If wine is to gain greater market share here, it should be experienced as relaxed and fun, with no rules. Put together an effective explanation of why focusing on wine can make life richer… and there you have a marketing campaign that will have an impact in the U.S.

Comments Off on Wine Marketing – The Gap Between Europe and the U.S.

Filed under Business, Food Pairing, Wine Industry

Winemaker Interview – Todd Anderson of Anderson’s Conn Valley Vineyards (ACVV)

Please follow my winemaker interview series! You can find this interview at the following link:



Comments Off on Winemaker Interview – Todd Anderson of Anderson’s Conn Valley Vineyards (ACVV)

Filed under Cabernet Sauvignon, Napa Valley, U.S. Wines by Region, Wine by Varietal, Wine Industry, Wine Tasting, Wine Tasting Notes, Winemaker Interview

Market Trends in the 2013 DtC Wine Segment

I was recently reviewing the 2014 Direct-to-Consumer Wine Shipping Report and felt there were components that pointed to some interesting conclusions. This is a quick recap, with the addition of a few personal observations and opinions of my own.

DtC sales activity is pointing to continuing strong growth and tremendous opportunity within the wine industry. Wineries failing to have some kind of DtC strategy will be leaving big dollars on the table.


Information was excerpted, revised and included in this post as taken from the Ship Compliant and Wines & Vines DtC Shipping Report for 2014. The report was much more extensive. To review the entire document please download at: http://info.shipcompliant.com/2014-direct-wine-shipping-report/. The contributors to the original report are acknowledged below.

Direct-to-Consumer Wine Sales Growing in Unexpected Ways

The largest growth in DtC shipments in 2013 came in the $15/btl and under category. While this sales channel has historically been the venue for ultra-premium wines at much higher prices, it appears the greatest future growth may come from lower price categories. This will put a whole new spin on marketing and channel strategy for the larger wineries and broaden the DtC market.

Quarterly Cycles Defining Volume Expectations

The 4th quarter typically represents a disproportionately large share of annual sales, but the trend worth noting here is the first quarter continuing to lose sales volume. A continuing pattern for four years in a row. Business planning and expense control in this kind of environment will be a challenge.

 Large Wineries Beginning to Build Market Share in DtC

Large wineries (over 500K cases) have had a 76% increase in volume shipped DtC  since 2010, including a 26% increase in 2013 alone. These huge wineries are beginning to develop the DtC channel as a more important vehicle for delivering product. A key factor to note: these wineries are driving an average per bottle price of only $27.12, well below the national DtC average. This is another indicator that the breadth of the DtC channel is growing.

 Lower Cost Whites Showing Their Muscle

With 21% growth in volume in 2013 (against average growth rate of 9.9%), the $15 and under price category represents 19% of all wines shipped DtC. The under $15 category is being dominated by lower cost white wines. This may reflect consumers’ increasing comfort with acquiring lower cost wines through the direct ship channel.

Can DtC Demand for Ultra-Premium Wines Influence Retail Wine Sales Strategies? 

While only 2.8% of total volume of shipments in 2013, the $100-149 price category has experienced 60% growth in volume since 2010. These figures should justify wineries adding the overhead to offer premium services for an elite clientele. Perhaps formally trained staff will find their way into tasting rooms.

 Napa Dominates All and California Commands Premium Pricing

Napa Valley ships over 73% of all the Cabernet through the DtC channel at an average price per bottle of $81! The average bottle price of a California wine shipped DtC is $40, while non-California wine is only $25. Clearly, California has defined their value message and the State has become its own brand to the average wine consumer.

Sonoma County ROCKS the DtC Channel in 2013! 

Sonoma County wineries increased their shipments to consumers by 25% in 2013. This huge increase in volume came at a cost. The average price of a bottle of Sonoma wine dropped by 6% last year. This could impact profits for smaller individual wineries, but for the bigger Sonoma County picture, bodes well for consumer perception of the wines. Personally, I believe there are great values in Sonoma County. These figures emphasize that fact.

Consumers Discovering Oregon

Oregon saw the largest increase in total shipments at 21% and showed positive growth in average price per bottle. Good news for cool climate Syrah lovers…. After a 100% increase in Syrah shipped in 2012, volume increased another 29% in 2013… with an average price per bottle increase of 59%!

 Zinfandel Losing Its Audience?

Zinfandel represents a full 8% of shipments from outside Napa and Sonoma. This varietal saw a 23% decrease in volume in 2013, on just under a 5% increase per bottle. Interesting that Zinfandel drinkers would react so drastically to such a small relative increase. This may indicate where consumer perception positions Zinfandel in the bigger red wine value spectrum.

 DtC Overall Growth Projections Point to Big Opportunity

Based on recent historical data, 7.5% growth per year in the DtC shipping channel over the next decade is not overly optimistic. If this growth in sales occurs, direct shippers will see a 107% increase to over $3.2 Billion by 2023!


Ship Compliant and Wines & Vines Report Contributors Jeff Carroll, Ship Compliant – Pawel Smolarkiewicz, Ship Compliant – Ben Olsgard, Ship Compliant – Lynne Skinner, Wines & Vines

Comments Off on Market Trends in the 2013 DtC Wine Segment

Filed under Wine Industry

Can New Zealand Wines Continue to Grow Market Share in U.S.?

Source quoted below…

What is Driving the Continuing Growth of New Zealand Wines in the U.S.?

This situation reminds me of the popularity of Australian red wines in the U.S. for the last decade. Unfortunately (for them), tastes evolved and the intensely fruity, sweet, simple style of wine produced for export has lost much of its steam, as U.S. red wine drinkers palates have matured. I have a suspicion the same future may be in the cards for New Zealand. Many consumers I talk to, enjoy the New Zealand Sauvignon Blancs, because of the tropical fruit flavors these terroirs seems to bring to the wine grapes. Contrast that with the lemon and grapefruit flavors that are predominant with the Napa-Sonoma producers. The majority of the California Sauv Blancs I have tasted are obvious food wines… pairing well with lighter food styles – seafood, chicken, white cream sauces. These New Zealand wines are better for spicy foods and drinking on their own. Can this style continue to grow market share and/or expand the market for white wine in the U.S.?

New Zealand Wine Sales Grow in the Premium Category…

In this case, the source is defining the “premium brands” category in the $15-30/btl range. Why are people willing to pay more for these brands: Kim Crawford, Oyster Bay, etc? Tropical fruit flavors in Sauv Blanc are difficult to find in wines from other areas consistently. Could this consistent flavor profile cause wine drinkers to feel they know the product as a regional brand? Perhaps in the same way we have come to know the general character of “Left Bank Bordeaux” wines? If this is the case, will this wine style continue to “win” in the long-run? Based on the popularity now, it would seem so, but only time will tell.


New Zealand Wines Thrive Stateside, Led By Super-Premium Brands

Shanken News Daily – “New Zealand wine imports continue to gain ground in the U.S., with much of the segment’s growth concentrated in the premium-and-above range. Bottled wine shipments from New Zealand grew 9.1% to more than 2.7 million cases in 2012 and then accelerated in 2013, rising 12% to over 3.1 million cases. The trend has continued this year, with New Zealand wine rising by 21% in IRI channels in the 12 weeks ending March 23. The U.S. market’s largest New Zealand wine brand—Constellation’s Kim Crawford ($17-$33 a 750-ml.)…”

1 Comment

Filed under International Wines by Region, New Zealand, Sauvignon Blanc, Wine Education, Wine Industry, Wine Tasting