May 2010 Archives

As many of you know, among the many hats I wear, one is acting President of the Meritage Alliance.  Yesterday, we held the annual Meritage Alliance meeting in our cellar.  Each year, we feature a guest speaker and this time we were lucky enough to have Tom Wark, whose blog Fermentation:  A Daily Wine Blog is one of the more widely read blogs in our industry.  Tom is one of those rare gems….a wealth of knowledge and as down to earth as they come. In addition to his reputation as a blogger, he also runs his own PR and Marketing consultancy, Wark Communications. While I haven't worked with him personally, my hunch is that he's darn good at what he does.

However before I go into Tom's thoughts, first I must explain why I've been MIA.

My life has been about as topsy turvy as it gets these last few weeks. After a successful yet humbling week in New York, (more on that later) I came home to the unfortunate news that Leone, my personal assistant and marketing manager of 10 years, was leaving the winery.  This came as a complete surprise. Needless to say, it felt a bit like having my right arm ripped off– after all, she has been an extremely valuable and trusted member of my team and someone whom I consider a close personal friend.  It's certainly a great loss for me personally and the winery as well, but I do wish her all the best in her new career endeavors.  After the initial shock wore off, I immediately went to work on recruiting her replacement. Thank goodness for! Within 24 hours, I already had some strong candidates. While it's awful to be in this position, it's a great time to be hiring—it's just a matter of finding the right fit. So I'm spending every spare moment meeting with candidates, asking thought provoking questions (can you mail merge, coordinate projects, handle details, provide a shoulder to lean on, and oh by the way, pick up my kid in an emergency?!) while trying to find my clone for the next ten years.

Back to the Meritage Alliance meeting - we had a hodge podge ofClick photo to enlarge! attendees from vintners, journalists, and PR people, although I was disappointed that more didn't take advantage of this FREE opportunity to learn from one of the best in the business.  

Tom covered numerous topics related to blogging and social media – I managed to scribble down a few notes...

Traditional Media (newspapers, magazines, etc.) distributes content to the consumer, and in Tom's opinion, it is far from dead. The new Social Media is the direct to consumer avenue for distributing content to the consumer. It allows you to have:


An intimate relationship with customers


Carry on a one on one conversation with customers


Have customers become familiar with you in a relaxed and informal manner

The defining essence that ties the two together is that both are vehicles for telling your “brand story.” And, just like with all marketing communications, it is critical to be consistent and “on message,” saying the same thing over and over and over and over again. Then, when you think you've said it enough, you start over again! The difference between the two is that traditional media isClick photo to enlarge! like the 3 tier system- content goes from the company/product, to the publication/writer, to the consumer. With social media the content goes directly to the consumer. As marketers of just about anything - wine, clothing, computers, whatever, we need to embrace both.

Tom focused heavily on Facebook and actually took us through a step by step look at how it works. He is convinced it's effective-that it actually can help sell a product and grow a brand, despite what many skeptics (myself included) believe. He stressed the importance of making Facebook a priority-if you're gonna do it, do it well and do it often.  Post info on wines. Post info on events. Post info on wine related topics. Post questions that customers might be interested in. Post photos of customers. Post while you're on vacation. Post photos of your vacation. Post, Post, Post! 

Hmmm, all this left my head spinning…how the heck is anyone supposed to have time for all this???  Sure, I'd like to have a more intimate relationship with my customers. But truth be told, I'd like to start with my husband and kids whom I've missed sorely lately.

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There's something you should know about the wine industry. If you enter this business, you have to be willing to eat some really weird food. This can happen at the most inopportune times, like when you'reClick photo to enlarge! the featured speaker at a winemaker's dinner. Or when you've spent oodles of time and effort trying to get a wine list placement. Or my favorite, when you allow the wine writer to pick the restaurant and you end up deep in the heart of Chinatown.

I guess by some people's standards, I'm finicky. While I absolutely LOVE to eat, I generally prefer my meals to be recognizable, especially if the item was alive prior to being served to me. The husband on the other hand, will eat just about anything and loves watching the television show “Bizarre Foods.” Thankfully, I have a cast iron skillet for a stomach so rarely does any one ingredient or dish disagree with me.  But, I am a bit squeamish-especially if the meal includes something with eyes. Call me wimpy, but I just don't like my plate to stare back at me!

What's a Click photo to enlarge!winery owner to do?  With so much of wine sales and marketing centered around food, it's inevitable that you'll be faced with this dilemma at some point in your career. Pretending you like something when in fact you are about to gag is a learned skill, trust me. And you can't afford to offend the chef by politely saying “no thank you.”  

This is top of mind as I leave for New York, one of my favorite cities, but a culinary minefield for anyone even slightly timid. I still remember an evening about 10 years ago. I was in town to launch our Endeavour Cabernet to a group of wine writers. Normally I would handle the dinner arrangements, but this group asked if they could pick the location. All they asked was if I was adventurous. That should have been my first clue. We ended up at a place in ChinatownClick photo to enlarge! unlike any Chinese restaurant I'd ever been to. The gooey duck, chicken toes and fish heads paired seamlessly with the Endeavour Cabernet, which I found myself drinking in larger than normal quantities that evening.

Earlier this week, I had a similar experience at Sushi Ran—a fantastic sushi restaurant that has an amazing wine list. We just got our Heritage Zin on the list and wanted to stop in to say thanks. Thankfully, my palate is expanding and I no longer tremble with fear when I see a stray tentacle or eyeball on my plate.  But if you're planning to venture into the wine biz, do yourself a favor and start expanding your food repertoire early. It will pay off later on, I promise!

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A great big thank you to all my guest bloggers who shared their insightful and witty stories of life here at Dry Creek Vineyard! As I've said so many times before, a company is only as good as its people. And in our case, we are blessed with the best in the business. Thanks guys. Watch for more Wilma stand-ins as I head out of town again next week.

I always hate to leave this time of year as spring has finally sprung in the Dry Creek Valley. The vines are lush and green, shoots have pushed and very soon we will be “in bloom” which is always a tenuous time with rain still possible. Warmer weather also means people are finally coming out of hibernation and the tourist season is beginning to pick up. Thank God. It's been a long slow winter. Probably one of the worst I've seen, tasting room wise.

While we enjoy healthy distribution of our wines nationally, many local wineries depend heavily on foot traffic and tasting room sales. It has become a significant cash stream that is far more profitable than selling through distributors. But along with the increased importance of the tourism dollar, is a new Brew Ha Ha that is emerging on the subject of tasting room hours.

Historically, tasting rooms have offered wine sampling between the hours of 10:00 and 4:30. Some stay open until 5:00. Rarely did a winery stay open later, unless there was a special party or event that required after hours staffing. But these days, wineries are doing anything and everything possible to keep people on the premises. Special events and wine-related activities designed to enhance the “customer's experience” are the name of the game. We've gone from low key tasting room experiences that gave customers a chance to sample before they buy, to highly orchestrated entertainment venues where customers drink wine, socialize with friends, and enjoy the “wine country experience” for as long as possible. Seems fun, right? Here's the rub.

It's dangerous. And, it's just a matter of time before something sad and unexpected occurs that will impact all of us in the Dry Creek Valley. What I'm talking about is an accident. Dry Creek Road and the surrounding country lanes were simply not designed for parking mass quantities of cars. Nor are there traffic lights or cross walks to facilitate the safe crossing of the highway. Yet, nearly every weekend I'm amazed at the number of cars parked along the side of Dry Creek Road (which has an average speed limit of 50 mph) as people hang out at wineries open after hours.

Apparently, this potential problem has captured the attention of our County Board of Supervisors. An April 11 article in our local paper, The Press Democrat, suggests that the Sonoma County Planning Commission and Permit and Resources Management Department will be recommending a limitation to all wineries' tasting room hours.

Personally, I'm torn by the situation.  For me it's not so much the hours a winery stays open, it's the amount of alcohol consumed and the dangerous parking that exists for those wineries that have inadequate parking.  Just last week, my 17 year old daughter complained that she had to slam on her brakes to avoid hitting precariously parked cars and their jovial wine drinking owners along the side of the road.  I have three concerns here: 1) You have relatively inexperienced drivers as well as old people, distracted people, hungry people or just plain old stressed out or rushed people, sharing the road with 2) Cars that are unsafely parked along a certain stretch of a major highway 3) Owned by nice people who have been out wine tasting and are casually meandering their way back to their unsafely parked cars. Meanwhile, the rest of the world is just trying to get somewhere safely and on time.

I definitely don't think regulation of tasting room hours is the solution. However, enforcement of existing laws is. So if the problem is limited to a few bad apples (or grapes!), then let's address that and not inhibit the individual vintner's ability to make a living by limiting their hours of operation. Isn't the problem really just parking enforcement and overconsumption by a select few?

It's like telling a restaurant that they can't be open past a certain time because a patron of theirs didn't follow the law...

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About this Archive

This page is an archive of entries from May 2010 listed from newest to oldest.

April 2010 is the previous archive.

June 2010 is the next archive.

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