March 2008 Archives

I just don't get it. How can a perfectly happy person turn into a stark raving lunatic for no apparent reason? Welcome to the world of parenting a 15 year old. As charming as they are, teenagers can be rather challenging, not to mention hormonal. In my frustration to deal, I started to think about which wine would go best with a pesky teen? (Not for the kid of course, but for the rattled nerves of a harried mother or nearly catatonic father!)

How about a zesty zippy Chenin Blanc, guaranteed to put a smile on even the most disgruntled adult? Or, the robust sturdiness of a powerful Cabernet Sauvignon?  No, I've got it, the perfect solution to end my frowning and scowling…a spirited Zin (just like my teen) with moderate alcohol but enough grip to shock the palate into a renewed zest for life. Yes, that'll surely do the trick.

I sometimes wonder how life would change if I wasn't in the wine business. Would it be easier? Would it be more relaxing? One thing is for sure; I certainly would not have one of life's grandest elixirs to help ease the pain of parenthood.

Now, what to serve it with…

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Every time we start bottling I have flashbacks. I'm 15 or 16 years old, in high school and spending many a weekend and lots of school vacations working on our bottling line. We (Dry Creek Vineyard) were actually one of the highest paying gigs in town and it sure beat a job flipping hamburgers at Arctic Circle or at the old Healdsburg A & W Root Beer.

Things were a lot different then. Labels were affixed by hand using a small rolling glue machine and a wooden template that we'd hold in our lap so we could line the front and back labels up straight. There were 4 or 5 of us on the line, all laughing and joking, anxiously awaiting our mid morning break or lunch hour. These same people also made the wine, sold the wine, poured in the tasting room, etc. It was those early days on the bottling line that made me swear I'd never work for the winery when I grew up. No sirreee. I had better things to do with my life! But somehow the call of the family business and the prospect of helping build something really special brought me back full-time in 1986.

Bottling is one of the most strenuous, tedious, and difficult jobs. And, it's a job that few have experienced yet is paramount to quality wine production. In fact it's so important that we put in a spiffy new (EXPENSIVE) one last year. Not the most gratifying way to spend money, but certainly a necessity for us since our previous equipment was ancient.


So the next time you pop a cork and enjoy a glass of wine, think of the people who labored to fill that bottle. Who stood on the cold concrete all day long, lifting boxes, loading pallets, making sure the fill line was correct, the label was straight, etc.

They deserve a big pat on the back…trust me, I know.

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Ever wonder which wine to drink after an argument with your spouse? For me, the answer is easy, whichever bottle is the closest!! Just kidding…

Seriously though, wine and emotions go hand and hand. That's why certain wines can transform you back to a place that holds your greatest memories. Perhaps it's a special occasion with a loved one. A freezing cold night when the lights went out. Or a warm balmy evening in the middle of summer.


For me that wine was a 1937 Savennières savored in Rochefort-sur-Loire while visiting our dear friends the Baumard family. Florent Baumard was a childhood friend (son of famed winemaker, Francois Baumard of Domaine
des Baumard
) and we had the honor of joining his family for a rare vertical tasting of 2 dozen Savennières dating back to the early 1930s.


I'll never forget the flavors of the luscious honeysuckle and nectar-like qualities of this very old Chenin Blanc. Brisk and tightly woven while at the same time inviting and exotic-like a special perfume that is saved for the most important and memorable occasions. Why… just think of the history at the time and how much the world has changed since those earlier days. It's remarkable, really.


Any wines transform you in this way? I'd love to hear.

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I just read that retailer extraordinaire, Michael Aaron, of Sherry Lehmann's in NY has retired. This comes exactly 50 years and one day after he joined his family's iconic wine shop.  To me, this is a true signaling of the changing of the guard that I see happening all over the wine business.


I'll never forget the first time I made a sales call on his store. I was in my mid-20s and very excited about the prospect of landing this important account for our winery. Michael was very well known and extremely respected in wine circles, and I was just a wee tad intimidated to say the least.

I went to New York to introduce our 1985 Meritage, the first wine to carry this designation, and a wine that we were profoundly proud of. It was a big deal for us and required some “out of the box” thinking to really get people's attention. I decided to hire a limousine to take me to selected wine buyers so I could make an “unforgettable” sales call. It was in the late 1980s, and while it seemed like the competition was fierce, it was nothing compared to now! Nonetheless, I had to do something different to get noticed.


Michael Aaron circa 1988

I arrived outside of Michael's shop, palms sweating and hands shaking. I was certain he'd laugh at me or worse, refuse to hop in and taste my wine. Much to my great delight, he happily came for a ride to taste our new release and to experience what I'm sure was his first sales pitch in the back of a limousine.

Years later, we laughed about our first meeting and reminisced about how much the industry had changed.  And to this day, I'll never forget his graciousness and support way back when.

In fact just a year or so ago, I made my annual pilgrimage to the Sherry Lehmann store in order to introduce him to our new Bordeaux blend, The Mariner.  As always, he made time to fit me in and politely tasted our new baby.

I am proud to have known this wine industry veteran who was well ahead of the times with his dynamic direct mail catalogue and classic Madison Avenue wine shop.

Congratulations Michael! 

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Wow, I feel like I've hit the blog Big Leagues.  The blog meister himself,
Tom Wark of Fermentation: The Daily Wine Blog, has featured Wilma's Wine World in his recent post. For me, this is a bit like getting a 90 point score! Only it's for blogging, not for winemaking. Maybe it doesn't seem like much
to some of you, but for me, it's validation that somebody is actually reading this stuff and more importantly, they're enjoying it. Honestly, I couldn't be happier. It's just the thing I need to keep me enthusiastic and inspired…although I'm finding there's plenty of material right here under my nose!
Just like those big awards shows, I need to give credit where credit is due. My 15-year-old gets the nod for naming this blog. I agonized for months over everything from Wine, Sweat and Tears to the Reluctant Wine Blogger. When my eldest blurted out Wilma's Wine World, I knew it was just perfect. Then there's my dear family, who constantly inspire me with their ranting, raving, and amazing ability to let bygones be bygones. A very special thanks to The Husband whose love and support I've been blessed with for over 26 years. Despite our differences, we truly share the same vision. (Besides, there is no way in hell that I'd run this place by myself!) Lastly, is my staff. They're some of the most talented, passionate, and supportive people I have ever worked with. I am truly blessed.  

So, I think I'll just revel in the moment. Pour myself a glass of something special tonight. And, really enjoy it before I launch into my next topic about god knows what!

Stay tuned…

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We just had the dreaded “family meeting.” These are monthly sessions to review the winery's overall financial performance, i.e., THE NUMBERS.  We look at sales, revenues, expenses, ratios, etc. Sometimes these meetings go well, sometimes not. It all depends on the general mood of the group and…just about everything under the sun that could possibly affect our attitudes.

I've sat through hundreds of these comical gatherings and often wonder how on earth it is that we can still go home at the end of the day with love in our hearts and a smile on our faces.

Today I realized the whole scene reminds me of the animal kingdom. (I used to love those TV shows that depict the traits and characteristics of various species.) The meeting starts off fairly typically. Everyone is well behaved and reasonable. Then slowly, each one of us transcends into our animal self.  My father starts acting like the peacock that puffs up and gets very BIG.  This usually occurs in moments when he is reminding us that he started the winery and knows a thing or two about a thing or two. Naturally, this puts The Husband on the defense. His face turns red. His ears begin to steam. Much like a bull getting ready to charge. Or, a wolf circling around, getting ready for the kill. As for me, I'm like the duck--paddling like hell, prepared to take flight at any moment. Just trying to stay out of the way of the gunfire and any fall-out.

Seriously folks, these meetings are extremely stressful!! Because no matter how well things are going business wise, it is NEVER ENOUGH. The first generation is just never satisfied with the second, third, fourth, etc. That is one of the unspoken rules of the family business. (They simply do not tell you this in business school, but trust me on this one.) Rule # 2 is this: if somebody is pissed off about something completely unrelated, expect that it will come back to haunt you. For example, if I've committed some wifely faux pas, I can be sure that four hours later, it will resurface in some fashion at the dreaded family meeting!  Or, if Grandpa is frustrated, bored or lonely, irritation and annoyance will mysteriously crop up while discussing the complexities of depreciation, amortization and cost control.

Thankfully, we've all done this for so long that we end up laughing at ourselves before too much damage has been done. That is key to surviving the dreaded family meeting. 

And, the occasional glass of wine helps too!

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I never thought I'd feel like an old-timer. How did this happen-ugh?!

How could it be that at 32 years old…ok, I'm lying…actually 44 years old, (dangerously close to forty five!) that I'd relate to how the old guys must have felt when a transplanted city slicker from Boston arrived on the scene back in 1972.  But there I was having a rare “date night out” with The Husband when it happened.

We were seated at the bar of Bistro Ralph, Ralph Tingle's eponymous restaurant here in Healdsburg.  On either side, we overheard the happy banter of numerous newbie winery and vineyard owners.  I suddenly realized that I didn't recognize one single person.  Worse, they didn't know me!  It was an odd feeling to be in a town you've lived your entire life, a member of the business community for over 35 years, and feel like a complete outsider. I must admit, I didn't like it one bit at all. 

I was feeling a bit depressed until we had our first sip of a delicious wine by some new winery named Arista. A 2005 Pinot Noir that was smooth as silk and as refined as a Hermès scarf tied on a Prada bag. Ok, that might be a stretch, but you get the point. At that very moment, I was reminded of the magic of wine discovery. How fun it is to learn about a new wine from a new producer. How cool it is to listen to the waiter, take that leap of faith, and order something new, sight unseen.

And then I wondered…did anyone discover a Dry Creek Vineyard wine tonight??

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My last post reminded me of the debate we've had regarding our use of the term Fumé Blanc. Ever since I can remember, this name, this wine-- and all that it represents, has been the lifeblood of our winery. Truly, I can't remember a time when Fumé Blanc hasn't been the backbone of our business, our dinner table, and our family.

But, there's a lot of confusion between Fumé Blanc and Sauvignon Blanc. To set the record straight, both wines are made from the Sauvignon Blanc grape. Fumé Blanc is merely an alternate name for a wine that can be made in a wide variety of styles, depending on winery, winemaking philosophy, region, etc.

Ours is produced in the classic Loire Valley style (think Pouilly Fumé) emphasizing fresh citrus fruit, vibrant acidity and a crisp clean finish. And, we never use oak. Since 1972, when Dad first introduced this wine to the world, we have called ours Fumé Blanc. While the name may be old fashioned, the wine is definitely not.

But now-a-days, it seems that Fumé Blanc is suffering from a bit of an identity crisis, kind of like Oldsmobiles and polyester.  Young, hip wine drinkers, (who often work at young, hip restaurants) don't really understand it, and they generally don't care to try.

In pondering the subject, we asked for opinions from just about everybody. As you can imagine, the feedback ran the gamut. Our sales people said change it. No surprise there. Our distributors were split, as were restaurants and wine shops. But it was the consumer, the people who buy our wines in our tasting room, off store shelves and on restaurant wine lists, who had the most to say. And in the end, their nostalgia and fond memories associated with our Fumé Blanc, spoke directly to our hearts. Seems that a lot of you folks cut your teeth on our Fumé, and to call it something else just to suit the times, would simply be wrong. 

So, we're sticking with the name Fumé Blanc. We're honoring tradition, bucking the trend, and hunkering down to educate a whole new generation of wine drinkers who might not know about the merits of this delightful and beguiling wine.

Stay tuned…

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About this Archive

This page is an archive of entries from March 2008 listed from newest to oldest.

February 2008 is the previous archive.

April 2008 is the next archive.

Find recent content on the main index or look in the archives to find all content.


This is a blog about what it's really like to be in the wine sit back, take a sip and enjoy!

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A Lifetime in Wine

Top 10 Traits of the Successful Family Winery

The Dreaded Family Meeting

Board Meeting Jitters

Is the Future of the Winery in Danger?

The Case of the Overweight Bottle

Wine and Dementia

Wanted: Talented (Normal) Individual for Family Owned Winery

A Sea of Wine

The Heroes of Our Industry

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Cellarmistress' Cellar Talk

Uncork Life

WineVine-Imports Blog

The Wine Witch


Honorable Mentions

Wilma Hits The World of Blogs
Most Intriguing New Wine Blogs of 2008
Midwest Wine Guy
Winery of the Month
Julia Flynn Siler
Meritage wines - and a fascinating glimpse into family business
Winery Web Site Report
New Winery Blog: Wilma's Wine World
Start Up Ladies
Insider's View of Family Owned Dry Creek Vineyard
The Glue that Keeps the Whole Thing Going
Atlanta Dish
Blog of the Week
Blind Muscat
The Merits of Meritage
Boston Wine Expo exhibitors, and the reason why winemakers are so darn happy