June 2010 Archives

My head is still buzzing. And I don't mean the kind from drinking too much. It was from the sheer number of hats I wore this past weekend. There was my Dry Creek Vineyard hat, the one I normally wear where I'm all about promoting the winery. Then there was my Wilma hat where I'm slyly drumming up readership for this blog. And then there was my Meritage Alliance hat, where I enthusiastically touted the virtues of wines blended in the Bordeaux tradition, while pouring for a dozen different producers from all over the country. All this took place at the 3rd Annual Wine Bloggers' Conference in Walla Walla, Washington. Whew, it was a tough job but somebody had to do it!

In between blogging seminars, tips on social media and networking 2010 style (aka digital schmoozing), I learned about wines from the Yakima Valley and Walla Walla appellations. I even learned a little bit about wines from Idaho. For a somewhat jaded wine gal like me, I found it all fascinating and great fun. Besides, for once in my life, I was the one being entertained, not the other way around!

The conference offered a very diverse schedule with one common theme, WINE. We learned, we blogged, we networked, we tasted. And, we did something completely new to me -- live wine blogging which was kind of like doing a sales pitch on steroids. In less than 4 minutes, I had to be as engaging, charming and informative as humanly possible while pouring wine for a table of bloggers who were blogging online. When the bell rang, I rotated to the next table. This was repeated for a total of 27 times. That's a lot of hot air coming out of one red head!  

I had a few “aha” moments along the way.  First, I got to meet some of my favorite bloggers including, Jeff Lefevere of goodgrape.com, Joe Roberts of 1winedude.com and Grace Hoffman of cellarmistress.blogspot.com.  We quickly bonded, with no pretence of who we are or where we are from. I never felt a sense of competition (like my blog is better than your blog…) and was impressed with the amount of passion, innovation, risk, hard work, and dedication wine bloggers possess. There was a sense that somehow, even though no one is really quite sure to what extent, wine blogging is making a difference. It is a valid form of wine education that is growing by leaps and bounds. As an example, when Tom Wark of fermentation.typepad.com started blogging five years ago, there were fewer than 100 wine blogs. When Jim Laube encouraged me to start mine nearly 3 years ago, there were approximately 500. Today there are over 1000. Clearly, something BIG is happening, we're just not sure what it is or where it's taking us.

What we can be certain of is that we have become a nation of wine drinkers. And with this is the insatiable curiosity that exists with learning about wine. Because, no matter how long you've been drinking or how knowledgeable one becomes, there is always MORE to learn and MORE to taste. For me, that's a rather enticing proposition. As long as my liver can handle it, I'm up for the task!

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43. That's the number of blog posts I put out last year. Unfortunately that wasn't enough for me to qualify (I needed 52) for Click to visit: www.winebloggersconference.orgthis year's Wine Blog  Awards. Try as I might, I just couldn't churn out any more in time for the deadline, which came and went during one of my many business trips to…NY? MN? God Knows Where?  Nonetheless, I'm heading to Walla Walla Washington tomorrow to attend the annual American Wine Bloggers' Conference. This will be my third year at the conference and I'm really looking forward to it, despite the fact that I really shouldn't be going away right now. (I've got all those damn piles, remember?!) 

In between seminars on blogging, social media and the future of wine writing, I'm hoping to learn more about the Washington wine industry. I haven't been there in over a dozen years and I'm sure a lot has changed, just like here in Sonoma County. I'll get to play tourist, being entertained by the competition while sipping, swirling, and spitting my way through the region. (This is rare as usually I'm the one who's doing the entertaining!) I'll also be representing the Meritage Alliance which is a premier sponsor of this year's conference.  Our Meritage delegation will be pouring member's wines and educating fellow bloggers about the merits of Meritage. I had hoped we could do a blending competition for conference participants (The Blogger's Blend Off!) but it just didn't work out. Maybe next year…

If you haven't checked out the nominations, you might want to Click to visit: wineblogawards.org/give them a read. Some are winery folks like me, who dabble in blogging. Most are professional writers who specialize in wine. And, some are full fledged bloggers who have transitioned 100% to online writing instead of traditional media. Whatever the case, they deserve your attention, as anyone who has a blog knows that it takes a big commitment.

So, let's hear it for this year's nominations to the American Wine Blog Awards! Even though Wilma isn't on the list this year, I'm proud to be part of the pack.

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I am surrounded by piles. Piles of business cards. Piles of correspondence. Piles of meeting notes. Piles of work everywhere I look.  Buried beneath the piles is a large stack of resumes. And right on top is the one from my new DREAM GIRL!  Yep, I'm pleased to announce I've finally found the perfect candidate for my open position. I actually tried to hire a DREAM MAN, but as luck would have it, no one of that gender presented themselves. (Calm down all you HR types, I'm only kidding here!!) So, very soon I'll be busy training, coaching, and mentoring my new Executive Assistant/Marketing Administrator, Jennifer. She's got some big shoes to fill, but I'm confident she's up to the task as she brings loads of administrative, marketing and wine industry expertise to our dynamic little team. And, she's even passed her Level 1 Master Sommelier exam which is kind of cool too.

So, now that I can check “hiring” off my to-do list, I've got to get back to my piles. Top of mind is finishing the follow up from my recent New York trip. I've already committed to going back in September, which is just about the time I will have recovered from my last trip! Let me explain.

If you've never gone on a sales and marketing trip to New York, you don't know what you are missing. In fact, spending a week in New York should be REQUIRED for anyone thinking about getting in this business. Because let me tell you, it is a humbling experience. Even for a veteran winery like ours, this market is tough. Luckily we make wines in the price points that people are actually buying these days. And it helps that we've got a bit of name recognition along with the delicious quality and fantastic press/accolades. But, clearly we need to get out there and work the market more frequently. Just like anywhere else, it's a relationship-based business, and who you know is just as important as what you have to offer.

While my last trip seems like a distant memory (boy, a lot can happen in 3 weeks!) the trip entailed a 7 hour distributor trade show, several days of 

calling on key accounts, a sales meeting, a dinner with Wine Spectator, and pouring at Wine & Spirits Magazine's “Top of the List” event for which we had two wines chosen. While it might sound glamorous, it was a case of “we came, we saw, and we did NOT conquer.” So, I'm returning in September to continue to forge relationships, introduce people to our wines, and basically be the cheerleader for Team Dry Creek. (A mascot might be a better choice of words.) In the meantime, I've got a lot of piles to clear up so DREAM GIRL doesn't get the wrong idea. No, I am not a hopelessly disorganized chaotic mess of a person. I'm just another winery owner/chief cook and bottle washer trying to play catch up during a very busy time.

Click photo to enlarge!

Team Dry Creek Takes New York!

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I'm feeling a little blue. The office next to me is vacant for the first time in
10 years. My assistant is gone and I continue the search for a top notch

replacement. It's been a frantic couple of weeks as we tried to “dump” everything from her brain into other's, just as I had done from mine to hers over our many years of working together. In her characteristic style, she managed to handle the transition with grace and ease, for which I am very grateful.

But change, especially when a beloved employee moves on, can have a positive effect too. It encourages new ways of thinking and allows people to inherently grow in their roles and responsibilities. And, the newcomer often brings talents and expertise far beyond the required skills of the job. So, I continue on the recruitment path with several possible candidates coming in for more interviews.


Leone & Kim - Click to enlarge!

Having one last beer together at
the Dry Creek General Store

We've had some amazing people come through our cellar doors over the years. People who started out very humbly and later went on to become famous winemakers, winery owners, etc. In fact, Dry Creek Vineyard could really be called the University of Dry Creek! Just a few weeks ago, I ran into Dan Karlsen. He worked for my dad in the 70s. He had no wine experience and nothing more than a beat up old van, long hair and a dog. But he had just arrived in Healdsburg and was itching to get in the wine business. Lucky for him, he came knocking at the right door. Despite his lack of experience, Dad immediately hired him saying “Don't worry, I can teach you everything you need to know”. He went on to become General Manager and Winemaker at Chalone Wine Group, and just landed a similar job at Talbott Winery in Monterey County.

Those were the “golden days”, an era when people like my father were breaking ground in an entirely new industry. Kind of like the gold rush of the mid 1800s or the dot com era of the last decade. It didn't matter how much money you had, or where you went to college. What mattered was having a vision and being passionate in the pursuit of dreams. This euphoric “field of dreams” mentality lasted well through the mid 90s. A perfect example is Miro Tcholakov. Miro was a Bulgarian student who came to work the 1992 harvest for us. He was shy and hardly spoke English. Yet, he embodied the American spirit of work ethic, dreams, and moxy. We eventually promoted him to the position of Cellarmaster which he held until 1999. Later, he went on to become Winemaker at neighboring winery, Trentadue while starting his own brand, Miro. (Along the way, he also became fluent in English and very outgoing!)

Many names come to mind as I reflect on the University of Dry Creek. Jeff McBride, Winemaker from 1998-2003 and now General Manager for Stimson Lane's Conn Creek Winery, Phyllis Zouzounis who started in our tasting room and later became the first woman to work in our cellar. After many years here, she became Winemaker at Mazzocco Winery, and started her own brand Deux Amis. And there's Susan Lueker, a quiet intellectual who was our Assistant Winemaker under the guidance of Larry Levin, Dry Creek's Winemaker from 1981-1998. Today she's Executive Winemaker at Simi Winery, the historic property owned by beverage alcohol conglomerate, Constellation.

Occasionally, I run into DCV alum who beam with pride as they tell me their story. “Yea, I worked for your dad in the 70s.” When asked how they got the job, it's generally something like “I ran into Dave at the post office and we just got to talking…”  

Sadly, those days are gone.  Now it's all about meticulously screening applicants, asking thought provoking questions and interviewing for hours on end until just the right candidate emerges. Because it can be painful if I don't get it right!  

Besides, the office next to mine is too darn important to fill with someone who doesn't fit into the University of Dry Creek.   

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About this Archive

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

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