Tag Archives: winemaking

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.

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Vintage 2014 Event – A Wine and Film Pairing

VINTAGE 2014

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.

FLIGHT 1 – WHITE WINES (2 NOTES)

 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.

FLIGHT 2 – PINOT NOIR (2 NOTES)

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.

FLIGHT 3 – RED WINE (2 NOTES)

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!

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

Terroir Controversy

images-of-a-vineyard

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

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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:

 

http://winemakerinterviewseries.net/2014/10/15/winemaker-interview-todd-anderson-of-andersons-conn-valley-vineyards-acvv/

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

Winemaker Interview – Kathleen Inman of Inman Family Wines

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

http://winemakerinterviewseries.net/2014/08/20/winemaker-interview-kathleen-inman-of-inman-family-wines/

 

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Winemaker Interview – Kale Anderson of Pahlmeyer Winery and Kale Wines

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

http://winemakerinterviewseries.net/2014/08/12/winemaker-interview-kale-anderson-of-pahlmeyer-winery-and-kale-wines/

 

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Jim Duane – Winemaker Interview

Seavey Vineyards 

California, Napa Valley

 

Jim Duane – Winemaker

Please follow this link to the Winemaker Interview Series at: http://winemakerinterviewseries.net/2014/07/22/wine-liquid-sunshine

 

I look forward to folks reading the piece. I would love to hear feedback, or comments. Always interested in what people have to say. I enjoy telling stories with my writing and I hope this piece gives you a glimpse into the winery and the man. I really enjoy these family wineries and hope the piece does their story justice.

Thanks,

Doug

 

 

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

Should the French AOC System be Changed?

In a country where consumption of table wine is decreasing, you would think the government run wine industry (for all intents & purposes) would figure it out. There is a huge export market for reasonably priced, quality wines. Why shouldn’t the moderately priced producers in Bordeaux be allowed to use the Bordeaux name and relax the regs?

French Wine Laws Need to be Revised

As a consumer, I resent Bordeaux as a wine region.  If I want to explore the very best of Napa, I can afford it on a splurge.  The very best in Bordeaux is priced very close to insanity.  It has created a backlash with many consumers.  A perception of the damn cultural elite, dictating accessibility, creating an image that does not appeal to the average wine drinker.  It doesn’t need to be like this.  Bordeaux is at a cross-roads.  The majority of wine production in Bordeaux is actually more reasonably priced, but I rarely buy affordable Bordeaux.  With declining consumption in France, what will happen to the wine classifications Vin de Table, and Vin de Pays?  The answer should be:  allow a product geared for the export market to be developed.  Very similar to what Italy has done with the “IGT” designation.

French Wine Laws That Make Sense

I will now introduce sacrilege to the discussion… beyond the 1st-5th Growth wineries, the rest should buck the system and start a co-op outside of the AOC system and pool marketing dollars to enter new export markets.  Relax the production requirements to allow more accessible, new-world styles.  Permit label changes to make them more understandable for the typical New World consumer.  Spend money advertising  to introduce these new wines to the world… AND allow them to use the “Bordeaux” name.  

The Horror!

Why would this be so crazy?  If I had the cash to invest, I would learn French and reach out myself to get these winemakers to leave the system and step out on their own.  A group of value priced Bordeaux producers banding together and pursuing export markets outside of the limitations of the AOC system?  Wouldn’t that ruffle a few feathers?

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How Do You Perceive Value in Wine?

I find this topic very interesting, when the discussion includes someone from the supply side of the wine biz… I think there is a heavy dose of cynicism that the industry tends to develop regarding the consumer’s view of value. I work in only a part-time ancillary role to the industry and perhaps because of this, I see the irony… In my experience, the people truly passionate about wine are usually the consumers!

Wine and Brand Loyalty

Perhaps my view has been colored by 20 years of wine travel, meeting small winery owners and hearing their stories. I feel very connected to their life’s mission and can relate to their journey in some small way. Maybe, it is even envy for that kind of passion… to produce something exceptional. I can justify premium wine costs in my mind, based on the additional steps to quality many smaller wineries employ. I am also willing to spend my wine dollars based on a sliding scale associated with my enjoyment of the product.

I know bulk wine and mass distribution can introduce you to the least appealing side of the industry. This post is the direct result of a conversation regarding a vehement inability to find the value in wine over $40/btl. I have had a different experience, with winery visits, wine dinners, wine collectors groups, education programs and interaction with wine enthusiasts that have all been fun, built friendships and perhaps even romanticized the industry a bit for me. Perhaps, THAT is where the real value in wine lies. Early in my wine years, I would derive great pride in finding the lowest priced wine of the best quality to fill my cellar. Today, I think more about the wine I can enjoy best with my friends. Heck, I buy wine for my wife that I would never drink by myself, let alone pay top dollar for. I admit it, sometimes I buy wine just because I am fascinated by the winemaker’s passion for the trade.

Today, so much premium wine is sold without an understanding of who and why the consumer buys the product. Building brand loyalty at the upper end of the market demands an understanding of your customers and why they buy…

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Fine Wines are Over-Priced? WATCH THIS!

I have been involved in many discussions regarding the cost of producing a bottle of wine. As bulk wine brokers tell it, no wine should retail for more than $15/btl. You talk to small wineries producing estate bottled wines and they will tell you their cost is $30-40/btl. Watch this video and you begin to understand the difference.

Paloma Vineyards

When I was at Paloma Vineyards a couple of years ago, the owner Barbara Richards was talking about making up to five passes through her vineyards hand pruning each vine and making the decision to drop up to a third of her crop to achieve the proper concentration in the juice. Then, literally harvesting a block at a time, as shaded, or sunny blocks were at optimum ripeness. When you add the labor for the kind of berry selection shown in this video and the loss of the culled fruit, you begin to see how premium wine production can become expensive.

Blankiet Harvest Selection Video

Here is the link: Antonio Galloni – Blankiet Estate.

Take a minute to check it out. This may sway your view of wine production costs.

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