December 2008 Archives
|Sometimes it feels like we're a tiny little ship bobbing along in a growing sea of wines. The water is choppy and the weather does not appear to be letting up any time soon. Nor are the tides in our favor. Distributors are tightening up their inventories, restaurants aren't buying, and retailers are sticking with the tried and true labels that sell. (Thankfully we fit this category.) Differentiation is the name of the game, along with a million other details including 90+ scores, a stellar track record, and the right contacts on all sides of the business.
Just last night I came across yet another new brand that made me choke. Dry Stack. Maybe it's my weakening 40+ year old eyes, but to me, when I quickly scanned the wine list at one of my favorite local restaurants, it looked a lot like Dry Creek. I shuddered in disgust. Where do all these new brands keep coming from???
I have written before about the challenges of running a winery today. It is just not easy folks. Of course the recession is making it doubly hard. But even if you remove the current economy, there's a glut of wine out there with eye catching labels and slick brands oozing out of every corner of the globe. When you factor all of this in, I wonder why it is that anyone in their right mind would consider starting a new winery today. That is why I read with great interest about a book called The Complete Idiot's Guide to Starting and Running a Winery. I first heard about it in the blogosphere, and thought it was a joke. But sure enough, a quick perusal of Amazon revealed there really is such a book.
I've already placed my order. I can't wait to hear what pearls of wisdom author Thomas Pellechia has for those of you who want to join our ranks. I'm planning to read it over the holidays just so I can have a good laugh here and there. I'll report back my findings. And who knows, I just might be inspired to write my own title: The Wilma Way: Clawing Your Way to the Top, One Barrel at a Time
Sales meetings are like going to the dentist. No one looks forward to it, but you have to do it anyway. I've sat through what feels like 100's of the things. Ultimately, these meetings all have one thing in common. Management tries to figure out how to sell more wine at a higher price to keep the doors open and the lights on. Sales people try to convince management to do just the opposite and from there the negotiations begin! I don't care if we're in a recession, a depression or a time of great abundance and wealth. It's all the same thing.
This year, we tried something a little different. We gathered our very talented sales team at the winery and asked them three things:
We made them promise to be honest. And above all else, not to tell us something just because they think it's what we want to hear.
First we reminded everyone of our mission: To make wines that command respect. That is truly at the heart and soul of every decision we make around here. Then we reminded them of our vision: To be amongst the TOP WINERIES in California. Everyone agreed that our wine quality is superlative. And without hesitation, each wine surpasses the bang for your buck test.
But, there were a couple of suggestions that nearly made my hair go straight. They've come up repeatedly, and this time, I was forced to listen. The resulting decisions are significant and might surprise some of you, especially if you've been reading this blog for a while.
For one thing, we're getting screwed. Screw caps that is. Starting with our 2008 Dry Chenin Blanc, we are switching over to a screw cap instead of a traditional cork finish. Seems this alternative closure is vastly preferred by restaurants and is viewed as hip and modern by a new generation of buyers. And, of course there's the added benefit of eliminating the possibility of cork taint. Personally, I've never been much of a fan, but if this is what it takes to be a 21st century success, then I'm all for it. For now, the screw caps will be limited to our Chenin Blanc, but who knows what the future entails.
The other major change comes with our Sauvignon Blanc program. This has been the bread and butter of our white wine production for over 35 years. We've always called ours Fumé Blanc, and have fought hard to educate people on this somewhat dated name. No, it isn't oak aged. No, it's not from South Africa. And, no it isn't a poor man's Chardonnay. We even launched a website, www.whatisfume.com, to help dispel the confusion.
While it took me a while to get on board, I've pretty much come full circle. The next vintage will be released under the Sauvignon Blanc name and in a spiffy new package. Produced from Dry Creek Valley fruit, it will be distinctively different, yet inherently Dry Creek in style. For diehard fans, we will also continue to bottle our flagship Fumé Blanc (in the current label) for those who want the tried and true.
Ultimately, our sales team convinced us that these changes were necessary to appeal to a new generation of customers, without losing our loyal base. To ignore the facts is to be in denial. And the fact is, like me, our customers are getting older and we need to attract younger wine enthusiasts, at all levels, restaurant, retail, and consumer.
SO, as the saying goes, THIS AIN'T YOUR DADDY'S OLDSMOBILE.
I'm excited about the changes and can't wait to unveil the new Dry Creek. Much of 2009 will be dedicated to this. Maybe the American auto industry should take note?
I am feeling very satisfied right now. Actually the words that come to mind are thrilled, ecstatic, delighted, happy, tickled pink, and invigorated. Wilma's Wine World has been selected as one of the Most Intriguing New Wine Blogs of 2008 in Tom Wark's Fermentation: The Daily Wine Blog.
Ok, back to earth for Wilma. Time to prepare for another Board of Directors Meeting. You know what that means financial reviews, executive reports, hard core business decisions, and a whole bunch of family BS thrown in for good measure!
This is the time of year when holiday events start to really stack up. There are winemaker dinners, end of year business engagements, our annual wine club event and of course, The Company Christmas Party. I have always enjoyed this one the best. Even in the leanest of years, (2008 qualifies) we have thrown some sort of a holiday party for the entire winery staff and their spouses. Over time, it has grown from a handful of devotees to nearly 75 people with all the wives, husbands and significant others in tow. It's our way of saying thanks for a job well done and gives everyone a chance to let their hair down together. We've thrown some doozies, trust me! Everything from train trips to faraway restaurants, boat rides on the San Francisco Bay, to dinner and a lively DJ. (Dancing is nearly always part of the festivities as there's nothing more humorous than watching the CEO break-dance with a cellar worker.)
But somewhere along the way, it became politically incorrect to throw a company Xmas party. From what I'm told, the word Christmas might be offensive. The word Holiday is even pushing it. And, I'm just not sure about the word Company. To be truthful, I find the whole thing rather confusing. Don't get me wrong. It's not because I'm insensitive to the personal beliefs of others. (On the contrary, I'm very respectful about things like that.) Nor, am I'm some die hard Christmas fan who starts putting up decorations in August. It's just that it seems like practically everything we do in business today is potentially offensive, risky, or illegal.
So, after 36 years of Xmas Parties, we've come up with a new name for showing our appreciation and making merry with the staff. The End of Year Employee Celebration. It just doesn't have quite the same ring to it though. Nor does it roll off the tongue all that easily. Just yesterday, I overheard someone in the hallway ask a co-worker, Hey, are you coming to The End of Year Employee Celebration?
Bah Humbug.Clearly, we need a new name. How about The Schmoliday Mis Mis Party? It's easy to say and sounds like a whole lot more fun to me. Any other brilliant ideas?
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