June 2008 Archives
I was out of town earlier this week and got the shock of a lifetime when I returned. Plastered on the window outside the entrance door to the winery is a sign saying PUBLIC NOTICE OF APPLICATION FOR OWNERSHIP CHANGE. It's one of those mandatory signs that you often see outside new bars, restaurants, etc., except this one is yellow.
Funny thing is we aren't for sale!
A couple of thoughts popped into my head.
After further investigation, I've learned that this is a classic case of bureaucracy in action. The California ABC (Department of Alcohol Beverage Control) requires such notices any time there's been a change in corporate structure. Something about our development of a board of directors and the estate planning that my father has done, sent up a red flag that resulted in this obnoxious yellow sign. I simply can not believe it. I can just hear the rumors around the valley now. And, it needs to remain in place for 30 days!
So, if you happen to come by, don't be alarmed. It's just governmental red tape at its best. Definitely something to consider though if you're thinking about changing your winery's structure or beginning the estate planning process.
One of my ongoing tasks is meeting with wine writers. Sometimes it's to introduce a new product, sometimes it's to taste through the line and discuss winemaking styles, or as I've done more recently, it's to tell our story and introduce writers to the new and improved Dry Creek Vineyard. Every now and again, we simply break bread and chat about the state of the industry. These are the most fun as they often result in a fascinating exchange for both of us.
Last week I had lunch with Jim Laube from Wine Spectator. We shot the breeze, as they say, on a myriad of topics. Top of my mind was his recent blog post entitled Dry Creek Valley's Wines Should Be Better. We chatted about the Dry Creek Valley dilemma, the rumored possibility of a sale of Chateau Montelena and the use of screw capsor twisties as Jim likes to refer to them. Of particular fascination to me was his opinion on non-vintage vs. vintage wines. It might surprise some of you to learn that Jim believes that consumers might be better served in the long run if the wine industry did away with vintage dated wines in favor of non-vintage winesmuch like they do with Champagne and Port. I was very surprised to hear this especially from someone who quite vocally denounced the 2000 vintage (of course, he was right) and who has legions of followers who anxiously await his annual vintage report.
The premise makes some sense. It certainly would eliminate, or at least greatly reduce, quality variation due to vintage. There's the added bonus to winemakers who could blend to their heart's content ever in pursuit of making the highest quality wines possible regardless of what Mother Nature has provided in raw materials. And, then there's the simplicity in packaging. (I could print a 10-year supply if I wanted to!) And, of course, we wouldn't have pundits reporting on the quality of vintages, at least not the way they do now. What a relief that would be.
We both agreed that it would probably never happen in our lifetime. But it's an interesting concept and not one that gets discussed much.
I'd love to hear your thoughts and welcome your comments.
Sometimes I wonder why we stay in this industry. Is it for the love of producing a great product that we thoroughly enjoy? Is it the thrill of creating something delicious and satisfying that enhances the dining experience? Or is it the sheer challenge of building something that has the power to endure long after we're gone. I honestly don't know. All I can say is it gets in your blood. Especially when you've grown up with it. But there are days when the pressure, the responsibility and the sheer amount of work involved in growing, producing, managing, and marketing wines today can be daunting. And, after a week from hell I begin to question things.
Last night I was driving down Dry Creek Road on one of those rare summer evenings. It was warm and sultry and perfect for an open sunroof. Better yet, I was alone and not late for some appointment, meeting or commitment. And, the cell phone was silent. Trust me, this just doesn't happen much any more. I realized how simple it used to be around here. We ran a winery, did our work and went home to relax or be with our families. We didn't play phone tag. We didn't have computers, just a lowly fax that resided in the reception area. Every now and again we'd have a business dinner or go on the occasional sales trip. We visited with friends and neighbors and swap wine stories, harvest info, and tips on how to get distribution in some new faraway place, like New Jersey. This was long before the dozens upon dozens upon dozens of new wineries opened their doors all around us. Long before the plethora of producers emerged from all corners of the globe. Long before wine buyers became impossible to impress. Long before wine writers and magazines became so powerful that they could make or break a brand. Long before the pressure to continually entertain and provide hospitality to complete strangers became the norm. And, long before the frenetic pace of life we keep these days. It dawned on me that the very product that we promote as being part of the good life, is also keeping me from enjoying mine a good part of the time. So, I've made a vow. I'm going to sit on my porch more often. I'm going to read just for the sake of reading, not to catch up on industry news, or respond to yet another email. And, I'm going to stop worrying about the future. I need to enjoy what's here now. Soak it up. Really see it for what it is. Simply slow down long enough to just be, instead of always being in the act of doing something.
'Cause as they say, we've come a long way baby.
I read something the other day that made me smile. Actually, it made me gasp with joy. Apparently, drinking wine on a regular basis can ward off dementia in women. (Sorry guys, I guess it doesn't work with males.) Yep it's true, all the wine I've consumed in my lifetime is actually building up my brain cells instead of destroying them. Phew what a relief!
You see, lately, I've suffered from clogged brain syndrome. This is where you forget what you're doing, can't remember the name of a commonly used word, and simply don't have the mental prowess of your younger self. When I ask my friends and business colleagues if they too have experienced this, they just laugh and say well, what do you expect, you're getting older!
And for that, there is no cure.
Scientists at the University of Gothenburg, Sweden, have conducted research that proves there may be hope for us middle aged, wine lovin' gals. The findings are based on a random selection of 1500 women living in Gothenburg who were followed for a 34 year period. Women who reported drinking wine were 40% less likely to develop dementia. For women who consumed wine only, (as opposed to beer and liquor) their risk dropped almost 70%. (Source: Canwest News Service)
I don't know about you, but this is good news for me, both personally as well as professionally. Heck, maybe we can use this info to increase our sales! Yes, I can just see it now Dry Creek Vineyard smoothies, bottled Fumé water, Zinfandel lattes...
Oops, I'm getting ahead of myself. Better just stick with the bottled stuff.
Last night was the Wine Spectator Big Bottle Party. This is an annual event held at the Hotel Healdsburg, just prior to the Napa Wine Auction. It's a virtual who's who of the Sonoma County wine industry and an ideal place to perfect one's schmoozing skills. (Sadly, The HUSBAND couldn't join me due to the Little League championship game he was coaching. So, try as I did to hobnob with the best of them, I felt guilty the entire time. Except when sipping, rare wines from magnums @#*!)
One of the more interesting conversations I had was with the Associate Editor, Tim Fish. Tim qualifies as one of the nicest writers in this industry. And, despite his success and following, he's managed to retain his down to earth honest approach. That doesn't mean he minces words though. Last year, he bluntly told me he thought our Zinfandels were too thumby for his taste. Try as I might, I couldn't figure out what he meant. This year he told me he thought they had improved. I smiled and nodded knowingly as if we had intentionally removed the thumbiness from our wines. (At least they weren't pinky waving!)
We also discussed the future of the Dry Creek Valley. Specifically, why as a region we have not achieved the critical acclaim and status of other appellations and what we can do to change this. (As the region's namesake winery, I wholeheartedly believe that our future success is connected to the reputation of the entire valley.) It all boils down to quality and focus. In Tim's mind, our region is a bit too splintered. Wineries should be focusing on one or two varietals that they do best. Until we focus ourselves in this way, it will be difficult to achieve the kind of prestige that other regions have garnered. So there you have it, practical advice straight from an expert's mouth.
It all makes sense, but honestly, it's hard to imagine life without our adored Fumé Blancs. Or, Zinfandels without Petite Sirah. Or, Cabernets without the subtle enhancements of Merlot, Cabernet Franc and Petit Verdot. And, what about our dear little Chenin Blanc? While the grapes are grown in the Clarksburg area, (Sacramento Delta) and not the Dry Creek Valley, why on earth would we stop producing this sensational summertime sipper? I suppose Tim is right. Regions that have achieved super star status do only concentrate on a singular variety. Maybe two. Just look at Burgundy, Chianti, etc. But, how DULL is that? I for one, am holding out for the day when Dry Creek Valley is known for more than just Zinfandel.
But then again, I like my ice cream in a variety of flavors.
This is a blog about what it's really like to be in the wine industry...so sit back, take a sip and enjoy!
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