|Today is the day. I can't deny it anymore, I simply can't. It's time to throw a retirement party for Wilma. Just days after my 51st birthday, I'm ready to throw in the towel. Not on life, just on blogging! Let me explain.
Six years ago, and 229 posts ago, I started this blog using my pseudonym Wilma. It was over lunch with Jim Laube from Wine Spectator that the idea started percolating. I remember it vividly. We met so he could taste new releases while I shared my vision for Dry Creek Vineyard. With my father in retirement, and the second generation firmly in charge, we had a whole new vision plan - driven by a passionate desire to make wines that would command respect and be recognized among the finest in the region. And I wanted Jim to know! Mass marketed brands were my nemesis and I was hell-bent set on doing everything possible to avoid the homogenous vacuum that seemed to be sucking up so many of my family-owned winery counterparts. As I shared my story, I was able to describe firsthand the trials and tribulations of a lifetime in the wine industry since I had literally grown up in it. With each passing sip, Jim became more and more engrossed. His words of encouragement to share my story via a blog did not go unnoticed. Thank you Jim.
I chose the name Wilma's Wine World because I wanted a separate identity from the winery. I needed a voice to share "an insider's look at the wine country life," a site where I could openly and honestly communicate to readers. I had survived countless family squabbles, distributor consolidations, economic crisis, weather challenges, personnel issues, and just about everything else one will encounter if they stay in this industry long enough. My main source of material was day to day life. Things were a bit crazy then. The Husband was President, I was Vice President, my father was on the retirement sidelines watching with a skeptical eye, and we had a newly established Board of Directors. My son Spencer was a rambunctious pre-teen and daughter Taylor a precocious teenager. I was the poster child for much of the female population: a stressed-out working mom with the Great Recession looming ahead. A decade of hard work had gone into making many qualitative improvements that would re-define the winery including: new vineyards, new wines, new barrels, new equipment, new people, new business practices, new packaging, and new software. Things were more or less in place and it was time to reintroduce the world to the undeniably delicious, exceptionally high quality wines of the NEXT GENERATION! A blog seemed like a good place to begin.
Today, I'm proud that Dry Creek Vineyard is one of the few iconic, truly authentic brands left in the wine business. I'm proud of the unsurpassed quality of our wines and the dedication of our team. I'm proud of all this and much, much more. Our winery is a recognized leader in the industry with a legion of loyal followers. We are a destination spot for tourists and wine lovers alike. And yet, our job is not done. We are constantly raising the bar, striving for the next brass ring. And, we can never stop or rest on our laurels... not even for a split second. That is why Wilma must retire. I just can't "do it all" like I used to think I could.
Two years ago I took over as President. The Husband is at my side offering support and encouragement. Grandpa is happily retired with time for his interests in music, art, travel and philanthropy. My wonderful staff is made up of a group of dynamic, loyal, hard working folks who embrace the family business concept, making important and lasting contributions each and every day. It's a system that works as evidenced by the many great press reviews, endorsements, and customers we have around the world. For all of that, I am grateful.
So with the launch of our new website (a project that's been a year in the making!) it seems timely for Wilma to retire from blogging. Stay tuned... a new "winery blog" will emerge in the coming months. In the meantime, THANK YOU TO ANYONE WHO HAS EVER READ THIS BLOG!
There's been a slow transformation taking place behind the winery and my house these last couple of months. If you've driven over Lambert Bridge you might have even seen it. In a way it looks like a moonscape...or something otherworldly. Tall trees stick out of the earth with their roots reaching to the sky. Large pieces of equipment are scattered here and there. Boulders are bolted together in piles.
The Dry Creek Habitat Enhancement Demonstration Restoration Project is a partnership between the Sonoma County Water Agency, the Army Corps of Engineers, and landowners along the Dry Creek designed to build a fish friendly habitat. It includes bank stabilization and erosion control along with the development of environmentally friendly spawning pools for endangered species such as Steelhead Trout and Coho Salmon. So far, they've completed one mile--not a small feat when you consider 1000s of cubic yards of dirt were removed from a once abandoned channel. That's a lot of truckloads. Eventually, the county plans to complete a six mile corridor spanning the Dry Creek.
This federally funded project is a perfect example of the government and the private sector working hand in hand for a positive outcome. The project commenced some years ago when the county first approached The Husband to flesh out their ideas which included access to our property. Many meetings and negotiations later, access was granted along with an overwhelming endorsement from dear old hubby. At first I was skeptical, but why not? What's good for the environment is surely good for us and there's no doubt this will have a positive impact over time.
As a child growing up on West Dry Creek Road, I remember the fears of flooding and erosion that we had about the Dry Creek. Bank reinforcement was illegal yet farmers who owned land along the creek often placed old car bodies, tires and other material along the edges to avoid erosion. It was not a pretty sight let me tell you!
Today, we are fortunate that in addition to creating an environmentally friendly fish habitat, we also benefit from the anchored log jams and bank stabilization that will prevent our land from washing away.
The project came to fruition today with the release of 2000 juvenile salmon into the creek. What a sight to behold! By 2020 when the total project is complete, Dry Creek Valley may be known for its wine - and its fish.
Lately, I feel like I've been a part of a Christopher Cross music video. You know the song - "Sailing, takes me away to a place....." I suppose that's not such a bad thing! With the America's Cup on the San Francisco Bay, we've been doing a lot of entertaining.
This past week, we kicked off the first of a series of sailing adventures aboard the 70 foot scow schooner, the Gaslight. Based out of Sausalito, CA, this incredible boat was lovingly built by hand by Captain Billy Martinelli. Our event began with a beach party right on the water near the dock. Guests arrived and were outfitted with Wine for Sailors wind shirts and a souvenir wine glass. Wine and appetizers were served and the Steel Jam band provided the tunes as we all warmed up for our big day on the Bay.
After shoving off, we motored out of the harbor and then hoisted sails and made our way to the starting line for the Louis Vuitton semi-final match between Artemis Racing and Luna Rossa Prada. Let me tell you, it was an adrenaline pumping experience to see these boats in action! They are truly technological marvels. The Artemis Racing AC72 measures 72 feet and has a fixed wing sail that stands 134 feet tall. The sail itself is a work of art - it is longer than the wing of a Boeing 747 and employs similar airplane wing technology in its design. The sailors themselves are outfitted with 40 pounds of gear wearing Kevlar jackets, breathing apparatuses, GPS locators and carrying 50 feet of climbing rope. During racing action, these guys are in a virtual sprint, operating at their max heart rate of 190 beats per minute. The sailing world has never seen anything like this.
At the starting line, each of the boats jockeyed for position trying to beat the other to the gun and be in a good position for the first mark. That's when it really got exciting. As the boats headed down wind, they picked up speed like high performance sports cars. Each of them went up on their foil which essentially causes the entire catamaran to come out of the water and "fly" across the top of the Bay. Within seconds, they were traveling at speeds topping 45 mph! For the next 50 minutes, we worked to position ourselves so we could see the live racing action. It was quite thrilling for all of us on board to see these high performance boats being sailed by world class, Olympic caliber sailors.
As our day wound down, we all relaxed aboard the Gaslight swapping stories and sipping delicious Dry Creek Vineyard wines. Everyone left having a new appreciation for the sport of sailing and with memories to last a lifetime. Personally, I can hardly wait for our next sail!
In my experience, success in the wine industry takes a long term view. From growing grapes, to making wine, to all the sales and marketing expertise that goes into getting the bottles from the winery to the market, well...it doesn't happen overnight. So it was with much pride that I finally experienced the results of nearly 2 years of effort that went into getting Dry Creek Vineyard involved with the America's Cup. Just last month, we announced our partnership as the official wine for Artemis Racing, Challenger 34th America's Cup. This was a personal mission of mine as the "Official Wine for Sailors" with over 30 years of sailboats on our wine labels and involvement in the sport.
On Sunday, I entertained a group of handpicked winery VIPs at the exclusive digs of the Artemis Racing Hospitality Club at Pier 27 of America's Cup Park in San Francisco. Talk about fun! We learned the history of the world's oldest sporting event, chatted with legendary sailor and team CEO Paul Cayard and watched Team New Zealand kick the pants off of Luna Rossa from Italy. (I'm not sure that's the language I should be using but you get the point!) In between, we were wined and dined and served none other than an array of delicious Dry Creek Vineyard wines. I felt like a mom bursting with pride. While it's just the beginning of the Louis Vuitton Cup, already I'm feeling good about our partnership with this team. They have worked hard to bounce back from the tragic death of one of their sailors and untimely destruction of their boat. Now, their hope is to begin competing next week in the Louis Vuitton Semi Finals. Are they the underdog? You bet. But in many respects they remind me of our family winery - a team dedicated to the absolute integrity of their product, filled with passion and commitment to survive the choppy waters ahead. And like us, you just never know...they might go on to surprise the world!
So you know how we love to sail...right? Well, we are finally in the midst of our "Wine for Sailors" marketing campaign centered around the start of the 34th America's Cup which, for the first time ever, has come to San Francisco Bay. When I first found out that the world's oldest sporting event would be held in our backyard the summer of 2013, I just knew we had to leverage our longstanding reputation as the official "Wine for Sailors." Over the years, we've supported all kinds of sailing affiliations, from my father's involvement with the Tall Ship Californian and Nautical Heritage Society back in the mid 80s, to his sponsorship of Sonoma State University's first ever sailing team (SSU student Peter Holmberg went on to become an America's Cup skipper and Olympic medalist) to our long standing partnership with US SAILING and our sponsorship of umpteen regattas and sailors around the country. Heck, we even made a wine called "Sailor's Chardonnay" back in 1985.
Flash forward to 2013. First up to celebrate our authentic love of sailing was to design and trademark a spiffy new logo. Secondly, we developed an assortment of display materials, sailing merchandise, and commemorative bottlings to help draw attention to our wines. A lot of wineries are trying to jump on the ship (pun intended!) but there isn't anyone who has featured sailboats on their labels for over 30 years! Lastly, was the formation of a relationship with one of the America's Cup teams. Just last week, we announced our sponsorship of the Challenger of Record-Artemis Racing. CEO Paul Cayard is a Bay Area sailing legend and former America's Cup skipper and Olympic champion, so to be an official supplier of the team is a huge source of pride for us. Besides, access to yummy Dry Creek wines can only help their performance right?!
All of these projects have finally come to fruition and I am so proud that Dry Creek Vineyard will have a presence at this illustrious international event. In addition, we'll be providing an assortment of VIP hospitality activities all centered around our favorite sport. So whether you're a wine club member, distributor, or member of the trade, we've got something for you.
I have written thousands, if not tens of thousands of thank you cards over the years -- to wine stores, to restaurants, to distributors, you name it. I just got done with another couple of dozen on my last airplane headed home. It's a lost art form that I've always felt personalizes my interactions with our customers and one that I hope sticks out in the recipient's mind. But does it really?? With all the research conducted in the wine industry, someone should really do a study to see if any more wine is actually sold as a result of a sending a thank you vs omitting this step in the wine sales process. I'd love to know the answer.
Here's how I'd go about it if I was in charge of the study:
Take a random sampling of accounts visited in a major US market and divide them into three distinct categories. Category A would receive a well written, polite and thoughtful thank you note following a sales call by a winery owner. Category B would receive a somewhat terse and bluntly honest note recounting the actual details of the visit. "Dear Joe, while I enjoyed the bagels in your state, frankly it really ticks me off that you claim you don't have a spot for our Fume Blanc... especially with summer right around the corner." And lastly, send no note or acknowledgement of the visit to the remaining portion of the accounts visited. Repeat this for several times throughout the year or throughout your career, whichever comes first. Then check the sales figures and accounts sold information provided by the distributor in that market to see if there was any impact as a result. In other words, did my efforts make any difference??
Personalization and authenticity in the wine business is becoming a thing of the past. I guess that's why I continue to write these silly little notes, thank you's and the like. But between you and me, I wonder if it makes all that much of a difference anymore.
Hmm... we will see when I get next month's accounts sold information.
I can honestly think of no better place on earth right at the moment than being here in the Dry Creek Valley. The vineyards have begun their seasonal growing cycle and new green buds have leaped toward Mother Nature's warmth. The hillsides are aglow with emerald green from winter rains and warm temperatures have greeted us early this year bringing out an abundance of wild flowers. Sometimes it takes getting away to truly appreciate where you live.
This past week, I was traveling back East for business. The weather was still a tad cold and gray. My family in the northeast has experienced an especially difficult winter with record snowfalls. I'm glad to have missed all that excitement, but heading "home" always reminds me of what a crazy, busy bustle other parts of our country are. I think sometimes I take for granted living where we live. It's really a cornucopia of life's best things - wine, food, agriculture, art and people. Of course, my roots are from the East Coast, but let me tell you, getting on that plane to come home to California never felt so good!
This is our year. Our year to shine. I'm totally convinced of it. Why? There are lots of reasons, not the least of which is that our wines taste better than they ever have, but that's not what's on my mind this evening. My thoughts are about wine and sailing. Dry Creek Vineyard is the Wine for Sailors and this year is one of the most exciting in recent memory for sailing in the Bay Area.
You see, this year, the America's Cup is coming to the City by the Bay. Needless to say, we sailors are pretty enthused. After all, this is sailing's equivalent of the World Cup - it's our Olympics. The America's Cup only happens once every four years and the fact that, this summer, they are racing on the San Francisco Bay is really exciting. As many of you know, our wines have carried the brand mark of sailing since we released the 1982 David S. Stare Reserve Merlot/Cabernet Sauvignon blend. I remember how the idea came to us like it was yesterday. The Husband and I were sailing around on the Bay with my father and it was what sailors refer to as being in the "doldrums". It was gloriously sunny so we decided to anchor off of Angel Island and soak up the sun. As the story goes, we were bobbing around and about the second or third bottle of Fume Blanc in, the brainstorming session began. How could we spruce up the packaging? Should we try something new? None of us want to take credit for the actual idea but somehow we decided that our passion for wine and passion for sailing needed to merge - and what better place than on a wine label for a brand called Dry Creek? There was something ironic and humorous that struck us that day--so off I went to try to marry the two.
I raced back up to Sonoma County and we started going through old sailing books looking for images that struck us. We commissioned a local artist named Michael Surles to paint an original sail boat painting that would eventually grace one of our labels. Needless to say, the idea has worked and Dry Creek Vineyard has been known as the Wine for Sailors ever since. Dozens of labels later and we still work with Michel Surles for all of our original artwork.
I can't think of a more special time for our winery than in 2013 with the premier event in our sport coming right to our doorstep. We have a ton planned - some of which I can't divulge at the moment. We'll be doing some sailing for sure including several outings on a beautiful 80 foot yacht called the Gas Light. And our Wine for Sailors campaign will include some cool displays at local retailers and restaurants.
Sailing and Dry Creek have been linked for more than 30 years. This is our year and I'm so excited for the festivities to begin!
If you're like me, open that bottle night may be every night of the week! But seriously, Open That Bottle Night (OTBN) is an annual event started more than 20 years ago by Wall Street Journal wine columnists Dorothy Gaiter and John Brecher. The idea was simple - find and drink a special, older bottle of wine that you might not otherwise touch. It was their effort to get readers to drink some of these "moldy oldies" or wines stashed in the cellar that had been waiting for that perfect occasion. Now retired, Dottie (as she likes to be called) and John are still living out the tradition of OTBN on the third Saturday of February each year.
I've always admired Dottie and John. They are some of the best wine writers in the industry. Their prose was always candid and honest. And their writing style was as open to their readers as their love affair with each other. You see, Dottie and John have shared 40 years of what has obviously been an enduring romance and love for each other. Often, their lovey-dovey ways spilled onto the pages of their wine column which always struck me -The Husband and I have been married (well, we've been married for a long time) and I still feel those pangs of passion and love for him to this day. I can relate and appreciate their feelings for each other.
Dottie and John's recent OTBN included a bottle of our 1973 Petite Sirah - the inaugural vintage of this wine and the very first vintage of red wines in our history. It was also the year they met. How special! They still have an outlet for OTBN on PalatePress.com. You can read Dottie's recap of their memorable night with our Petite Sirah here: http://palatepress.com/2013/02/wine/open-that-bottle-night-wrap-up/.
I'm a sucker for a great love story and as love affairs go in the wine industry, Dottie and John's story has to be right up there with the best of them.
I feel like a little kid with the excuse "my dog ate my homework." Only in this case, I'm neither a child nor is blogging the same as homework! Nonetheless, the fact that I've had a lengthy hiatus from writing this blog was brought to my attention by a loyal wine club member at an event last Saturday.
I was hoping no one would notice. Although secretly, I guess I feel honored that anyone would really care whether there's regular content on Wilma's Wine World or not. Truth be told, I've been frightfully busy the first 6 weeks of 2013, coupled with a complete lack of inspiration. Every time I sit down to try to write, I find myself covering the same topics or simply griping about the state of the wine industry...yes, I think you know by now that I miss the good ole days! (Less competition, fewer brands, more attentive distributors, etc.)
Now, I just learned that we've got even MORE competition--from Brad and Angelina. That would be Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie. I kid you not! Here is the article straight from our industry's favorite news source: Wine Business. The fact that Brad and Angie (yep, I can call her that 'cause we go way back...check out this photo!) have entered the industry is another sign that the proliferation of brands and labels doesn't appear to be going away anytime soon. People from all walks of life have a fascination for the art of winemaking--but often, with little to no common sense as to how the product actually gets sold in the three tier system. Which means I'll be on a plane or in front of a distributor sales force telling our brand story a lot this year. (Ironically, I'm at the Southwest terminal this very moment.) Just since January 1, I've done this in the following cities: Los Angeles, Ft. Lauderdale, New Orleans, Dallas, Denver and Phoenix. Next month I'll do it again in Los Angeles, hoping that at least one or two people find my wines and what I have to say compelling enough to present our wines to the buyers of today's top restaurants and wine shops. Hmm, I wonder if Angelina intends to do this? Maybe I should offer to help?
Meanwhile, back at the winery things are humming along smoothly. There's a spring in people's step and a lot of excitement for the year to come. We have so many exciting things planned! We're creating several new one-of-a-kind wines for our wine club members and getting ready to bottle our single vineyard selections. We've launched our new Zin Lover's Club and are preparing a major overhaul to our website and ecommerce site. We're developing a marketing campaign to leverage our reputation as the "Wine for Sailors" and will be pouring our wines at the America's Cup which commences in the SF Bay later this summer. Our electric car charging station is installed and we're fine tuning our specialized education tours and tastings offered to the public. We are BUSY! But, it's always a good time to visit, especially now with the weather so beautiful and the crowds minimal.
Please stop in and say hello if you make it our way!
|If someone had told me five years ago that The Husband and I would switch places and I would become President of the winery, I would have said "No way". Who on earth would want that job? It's tons of work, it's tremendously stressful, and it's a completely thankless job. Forget it, it's not worth it. And you know what? A lot of that is true. But... I have to tell you, I have loved every minute of it this year, much to my great delight.|
|It didn't start out that way. On day one, I had to fire a long time distributor, run by people I've known for practically my entire life. Talk about stressful. Not to mention sad. But I had no choice, as I had to support V2 Wine Group, our new national sales agency we had hired to be responsible for our wholesale business. This was a decision they had recommended and I felt I needed to support that. The year has been full of choices like that - not always easy ones, but always in the best interest of the company. And that is what truly comes naturally to me - doing what is in the best interest of this company. Because quite simply - I care. I care a lot. I care about our past. I care about our future. And I care deeply about everyone involved with the winery. This should come as no surprise to anyone - I take my role here very seriously.
So while business is still a challenge, and competition in the wine industry is the toughest I've ever seen, we have SO much to be thankful for. Our wine quality is at an all time high, our direct to consumer business is at an all time high, and the talent and dedication of our staff is at an all time high. We've made it on the radar screen of some of the industry's most respected wine critics, including the Wine Spectator who not only rated our Mariner at 91 points, and our winery as "One of the best places to visit", but also gave us prime coverage (and the only non-Napa winery to obtain this) in their "Class of '72" story saying we "make an assortment of excellent red and white wines". The fact that my name was also mentioned was icing on the cake and the summation of many years of hard work.
So, as we end the year 2012 together, the year of our 40th Anniversary, I am so proud of the wonderful culture we have created here, the sense of pride that prevails within these walls, and the unique and increasingly rare breed that we are: one of California's truly iconic, pioneering, family owned wineries.
Thank you for your support, loyalty, and friendship.
Contrary to popular belief, it's not all roses and daisies working in the wine industry. In fact, this business can humble you in ways you never thought possible. And I don't mean humble in a bad way. I just mean bring you back down to earth. Sort of like a reality check. Recently, I had one such occasion to be reminded of just how challenging and competitive the wine sales world is.
As part of our ongoing relationship with key retailers across the San Francisco Bay Area, we were fortunate enough to be selected as a wine feature during November and December at Mollie Stone's. For those of you that don't know, Mollie Stone's is a wonderful gourmet grocery store and they do a fantastic job. For Dry Creek to be given prime spotlight during the holiday selling period is a wonderful thing. As part of our feature, we also agreed to do a series of in-store demos at each of the Mollie's locations. Being a team player and the winery cheerleader, of course I had my hand in the air right away to pour at one of the stores. As I made my way down (on a Friday afternoon grinding through traffic) I told myself that I was going to have a positive attitude. You see, sometimes, what initially sounds like a good idea, doesn't so much feel that way when the time rolls around to actually do the deed. Nonetheless, I was determined to make this a positive experience.
Upon arriving at the store, I was given my area to pour wine. It was very small and due to ABC regulations, I had to have people who wanted to taste step "inside the ropes." That, and I had to check every single ID plus make customers sign a sheet of paper saying they acknowledged that what they were tasting is alcohol. Well duh! Government bureaucracy at its finest. Anyway, as the night began, I found that most shoppers were, well, they were focused. After all, it's a Friday night, folks are headed home and they just want to grab their dinner fixings and get home as soon as possible. Not that I could blame them - I'd be the same way. But, hey I'm the wine guy - I've got wine to taste here! I found myself seeking recruits in the aisles - "Sir/Miss - I've got some terrific wines over here to taste! Trust me, you'll want to taste them!" A few people raised their eyes and kept moving. Some looked at me like I had horns on my head. One guy said he was a recovering alcoholic. Whoops. After a while, I started to get discouraged. Did no one like wine in this store? Did I smell bad? As the night wore on, people began to loosen up and I did have a few people taste and actually sold some wine. Short of me throwing myself in front a shopping cart - it was pretty hard to get people to stop and spend a minute with me.
In the end, it was a good experience. But humbling. Definitely humbling. I can say one thing - from now on, I am going to be endlessly nice to all those free sample people in Costco because I know what they go through!
Bill Smart, Director of Communications
There aren't too many pats on the back at the top. Not too many "well dones", "great work", or "thanks for a job well done". It's just assumed that the boss man, or in this case, the boss lady doesn't really need positive reinforcement like the rest of the troops. Thankfully, I've always been extremely self motivated. I get my kudos from watching projects come to fruition, receiving feedback from our customers, and reading wine reviews that are positive. Helping my staff develop and watching teamwork in action is also a big warm and fuzzy feeling for me because I know I've made a positive difference in the lives of others.
So when it was brought to my attention that the legendary James Laube, Senior Editor of Wine Spectator, mentioned my name in a December 15 article on the Class of '72, my heart burst with pride. It was just six years ago that I sat down with him to share my vision for our family winery. I told him where The Husband and I wanted to take the business and the improvements we were making to bring our wine quality and business practices to an entirely new level. In fact, that's when he encouraged me to start this blog - to chronicle the life and times of a "wine country insider".
Wow. Now, he's acknowledged the work we've done by actually including Dry Creek Vineyard in his story--the only winery from Sonoma County. Furthermore, he feels we make "an assortment of excellent reds and whites". I'm immediately inclined to share it with my Pop. Because deep down inside, we're all trying to get our parent's approval, right? I'm no different. I hope he'll swell with pride as much as I am right now. Ah...it feels good. Rest assured, I won't let it go to my head though. I'm not like that. But just for a minute, as I prepare for Thanksgiving, I'm feeling mighty happy and proud. And thankful - very, very, thankful.
I hope you have a wonderful Thanksgiving. And, I hope someone tells you "well done" too!
For about three years now (or maybe it's been longer, I can't keep track) we've been thinking about crafting a new wine. This wine would be the sister wine to our Bordeaux-style blend we call The Mariner. This would be a white blend produced using Bordeaux grapes, most likely Sauvignon Blanc with a firm dollop of Semillon. The whole thing makes sense to us given our passion for Meritage wines and blending, plus white Bordeaux would be oh so delicious and fun to have around the winery.
With the abundance of this year's harvest, we think now might be the right time to create this wine. So, this past week, our team sat down to taste through a dozen different White Bordeaux or White Meritage blends from around California as well as several from Bordeaux, France. What we found was quite interesting and dramatic - wines that ranged from incredibly appealing to a wine that literally smelled like bilge water. We broke the flight into six different wines and tasted blind, as we always do. Overall, I was impressed with the line up - especially one wine from Napa that was 90% Sauvignon Blanc and 10% Semillon. It was really one of the better white wines I've tasted in months. It's purity of fruit; its balance and finesse were all very impressive. It was truly a stand out wine. In that same flight was a god-awful wine as well - one that did in fact smell like bilge water. Now, I don't go around smelling bilge water every day but good grief this wine was bad. I often wonder - what are people thinking? Do they know their wines are THIS bad? I'd hate be the one on the other end of the phone fielding customer service calls for this plonk. Anyway, the next flight of six wines was good, although not quite as memorable. There was one wine, again, which shall remain nameless that was a standout for all the WRONG reasons. First, it was not a good wine. Secondly, it was $66 dollars and sporting a CALIFORNIA appellation. Now that takes some serious guts (or something else) to charge that kind of price for a white wine with a California appellation. Again, I've got to wonder - what are people thinking?
As always, these tastings reveal so much to me. Namely that our wines are truly delicious and so well priced. We're not sure yet which direction we want go with this new White Meritage which leads me to my final thought - what do you think about us producing a White Meritage? Do you think it's a good idea? If you could name this wine, what would you call it? I'd like to hear your feedback.
Throughout the year, we've been talking a lot about our 40th anniversary. It has been a big focus of our marketing efforts and has pretty much dominated 2012. But, I realized in the middle of the night last night that I haven't bragged much about it on this blog. Plus, I haven't shared with you the cool new video we made highlighting the occasion.
First, let me say-I'm really proud the winery is celebrating 40 years of family winemaking in the Dry Creek Valley. We have been through a lot (and I mean a LOT!) so this milestone is very near and dear to my heart. I literally grew up at the winery, as did several other people still in our employ, and we've seen the wine industry grow from the growth and glory days of the 80s and 90s, to the slug fest of international competition it has morphed into nowadays. I've seen the dreaded neo-Prohibitionists be replaced by a nation of wine-friendly folks with a fascination for the grape. Tourism and tasting rooms have become big business. Distributors have become wholesale behemoths with far too many brands competing for far too few slots on the retail shelf and restaurant wine list. Winery travel is still essential. Good press and high scores are helpful. Producing high quality wines is non-negotiable.
But the real key to success is the ability to stick it out. Persistence and patience are vital. And at the end of the day, it has to be a labor of love. You simply have to make wines you are passionate about sharing with the world. How they end up on the dinner table is the hard part.
Oh yeah, and a good dose of humor helps too.
I heard something astonishing today. It actually made my stomach ache. A well known Napa winery has released a $250 bottle of Sauvignon Blanc. No, I did not add an extra digit to that by accident. Apparently, it actually sells for $250 a bottle.
As a leading Sauvignon Blanc producer with 41 vintages under our belt, it's hard for me not to absolutely grimace with jealousy. Sure, I'd love to command a price like that. Just think of all the cool gizmos we could buy for the winery and the massive infusion of revenue such prices would generate for us!
But really, who in their right mind would have the gumption to actually do it? Especially in today's economy.
I admire winery owners who just put their foot down and raise prices to their heart's content. I remember about 15 years ago when the then owner of Chalk Hill Winery decided to raise their bottle prices by a hefty $20-$30 per bottle. He did so because he felt the wines were worth it and he was tired of being positioned in one price category when his beloved bottlings warranted another (in his mind's eye).
I too feel that way. Repeated blind tastings and competitive analysis support my theories. But I simply don't have the nerve or the financial where with all to go through with it. If sales stall, what will we do? Tap into my oil well money? Tap into my trust fund account?
So I guess we'll just keep making super delicious wines that express the nuances of our region. We'll continue to send samples to wine critics in hopes of positive reviews and high scores. And, we will slowly take a price increase or two when grape costs go up, barrels become even more costly, or the winery needs a new roof. We may never be in the same league as "Chateau La-Di-Da", but that's ok. I'm not sure I could live with myself.
I don't often play hooky. There's just an endless amount of work to get done around here and nonstop responsibilities that are always pressing. Besides when I get a day off I'd rather spend it with my kids and family.
But I recently joined my out of town cousins for a day of winery hopping in Napa. I forgot how fun it is to taste wine, hear the stories, and visit the unique properties so reflective of their owners. Plus I figured it was an ideal opportunity to do some spying on the competition!
Pride Mountain Winery is a beautiful drive up Spring Mountain Road outside the town of St. Helena. Open only by appointment, we were treated to a tour and tasting in their caves and tasting salon overlooking the vineyards that span the Mayacama Mountains. Of course, none of this came cheaply; the fee was $75 per person. But then again, that's Napa for you. The wines were delicious albeit very expensive. I still can't believe I plunked down an astounding $130 for a Cabernet. Our host was superb, passionate about wine, and extremely knowledgeable overall. Nothing was canned or rehearsed, and she made us feel like old friends of hers in no time. She gets an A+ in my book.
I was planning to go back to work after our picnic lunch, but suddenly decided we should visit Raymond Vineyards. This is one of the wineries that Jean Charles Boisset has purchased, adding to his growing stable of California wineries. He's been getting a lot of press as the "new Robert Mondavi of our generation" and so I was dying to see what he had done to the venerable Raymond family estate. Good grief. It's hard to describe but I'd say it's a cross between a "Napa Valley Night Club" and "Alice in Wonderland." Talk about over the top. From the bizarre hall of senses to the crystal cellar with mirrored tanks and scantily clad mannequins hanging from the rafters, I felt like I was in a high end strip club (I've never actually been to one, but this is what I imagine if I had!). While the wines were nice, the most striking observation was how five generations of Raymond family efforts have been wiped clean from the visitor experience. There was simply no connection to the heritage of the family or mention of the history of the winery. I felt sad and somewhat baffled since it seems like there must have been something relevant the new owners could salvage from the past. It also was a bold reminder of the importance of authenticity. And that's where Dry Creek Vineyard shines. There's nothing contrived or overtly "forced" here. We don't put on airs and we don't try to be something we're not. A visit to Dry Creek Vineyard should ALWAYS include the story of our past along with the innovative changes we've made that have resulted in the superb quality of our wines today. It should NEVER be about form and ALWAYS be about substance. In a nutshell, it's about wines that express the nuances of their appellation and the people who work so hard to create them. No mannequins, no crystal chandeliers, no fluff.
And if that's not the case, then, please, please, please I want to hear about it. Ok?
In this day and age of being "plugged in" - you know those high tech, high energy social media types that are constantly tweeting, facebooking, foursquareing, instagraming, blah, blah, blah - I often feel like my head is going to explode. How do they keep up the energy? Red Bull? Triple espressos? Power naps? In all seriousness, I do understand the power of these new forms of communication. And while I may not be the most savvy (or even like) this age of instant communication, it's more relevant than ever for our business.
And that's why I got really excited when I learned that not ONE but TWO of our wines were nominated for a Snooth People's Voice Award. What is Snooth you ask? Good question. I actually had to do some digging myself. What I found was fascinating. Snooth is an incredible online resource about all things wine related. You can learn about wines from around the world. You can share thoughts and engage in online forums about the wines that you like. You can learn about food and wine pairing. You can BUY wine! It's really one stop shopping for wine lovers. Snooth, being the creative energetic types that they apparently are, created a "People's Voice Awards" wherein their customers vote for their favorite wines from the around the world. Thousands of wines were submitted. Now in the final rounds, two of our wines have made the cut. I have to say, this is especially gratifying. Why? Because it tells me that our wines are being appreciated by actual people who actually enjoy them. Yes, wine critics are important, but to have our wines given the seal of approval from wine consumers makes my heart feel proud.
The voting is not over. I'd like to encourage you take 10 seconds to vote for our Fume Blanc and Sauvignon Blanc. Here are the links:
Fume Blanc: http://www.snooth.com/awards/?v=7673574
Sauvignon Blanc: http://www.snooth.com/awards/?v=7571456
In our socially engaged world, it's harder than ever for a winery like ours to cut through the clutter. Thanks to Snooth, we too have been given a voice with our most important constituents: Those who drink and enjoy our wines on a daily basis.
|It's amazing how much things can change in 24 hours. Yesterday I went out to the crush pad to find the crew busy with last minute harvest preparations. Cleaning tanks, making sure the crusher/destemmer is in good working form, calibrating the lab equipment, etc. Today, all hell broke loose! We received our first load of grapes at 6:45 a.m. Normally I hear the trucks roll in with their unmistakable "kaboom" sound as the metal gondolas rattle along the bumpy road en route to the winery. For some reason, I didn't hear a thing this morning. So when I arrived, I was surprised to hear we had already brought in our first load of fruit.
The weather is rather temperate right now, so I view it as a "soft" start... a nice way to rev up for what will likely become a fast and furious harvest. So far, the 2012 summer has provided near perfect conditions - a long warm summer with plenty of cool evenings and foggy mornings. And no nasty rain mid season to mess things up. Of course, a lot can change... I don't want to jinx it!
As we approach the busy Labor Day Weekend (we've got 2 huge events and a fancy dinner in the cellar) think of all those hard working grapegrowers, winemakers, and cellar workers who are out there scrambling - trying to stay one step ahead of good ole Mother Nature!
I'm a bit nostalgic today. 40 years ago, on August 24, 1972, my Dad finally got the permit to build Dry Creek Vineyard at the corner of Dry Creek Road and Lambert Bridge Road. At the time, I was just 9 years old and preoccupied with making friends in the new town we'd just moved to called Healdsburg. I recall being mostly focused on Barbies and Batman - not on some silly winery. However, the now iconic photo of me turning over that first shovel full of dirt with Dad looking on is truly emblematic of our winery 40 years later. I'm the President now and Dad is enjoying his retirement, albeit with one eye still on the family business. I know he's proud of our success - the winery is doing well despite some of the economic land mines that we know are out there. The wines have never been better and with our winemaker Tim Bell on board, future vintages are in very good hands. I feel really positive about our business for the rest of 2012 and beyond.
So positive, in fact, that we are going to take a day off! Yep, that's right -the entire DCV crew is heading up to Lake Sonoma today for an afternoon of barbecuing, water skiing and good old fashioned family fun. We are actually CLOSING our doors for the day - a first for us on a non-holiday. I figure, what better way to celebrate our 40th than with our winery family and the dedicated employees who have helped make this business possible.
So let's raise a glass to Dry Creek Vineyard and say Happy Birthday - forty never felt so fabulous!
This time of year, something remarkable is happening in the vineyards that surround my house. It's when the grapes begin to change color - the official term is Veraison, pronounced (Vay-ray-zoN). This exciting time signals that harvest is just a few short weeks away. And it also tells me that my winemaker will soon be pulling his hair out and losing sleep - but that's another story....
Veraison is a viticulture (grape-growing) term meaning "the onset of ripening." The phrase is originally French (isn't everything in wine culture?) but has been adopted into English use. The official definition of Veraison (or at least the one that was on the internet when I Googled the word) is "the change in color of the grape berries." That's a nice definition and all but it really doesn't paint the entire picture.
With the grapes changing color, it means the culmination of almost 9 months of careful vineyard cultivation. You see, to get to this point, we actually started working in the vineyards almost immediately after last year's harvest. There was the pruning and cover cropping in the early winter. Then there was the frost protection and nightly watch as new buds began to grow this past spring. And finally, this summer our vineyard team has been painstakingly working to position shoots, thin leaves and manage the canopy to ensure proper sunlight for the grapes. Plus, they've been closely monitoring to make sure the vines get enough water. Whew, that's a lot of work!
So, with the grapes going through Veraison, you can imagine how excited we all are to see that first load of grapes arrive on our door step soon. In fact, we get so excited that we like to pop a bottle of bubbly and toast the occasion. Yep, just one more excuse to drink champagne! Our winemaking team tells me we are just a couple of short weeks away from our first grapes. Later this week the first of two interns we've hired arrives from South Africa and our Dry Creek family will expand a little more.
So, please join me in raising a glass to toast another great harvest... in this case, our 41st!
|A super thing happened to me today. One that makes all the late nights of writing and absentminded brainstorming for topics all worthwhile! Wilma's Wine World has been nominated as a finalist for the 2012 Wine Blog Awards in the Best Industry/Business Wine Blog category. I'm grinning from ear to ear! The competition has steadily grown and so has the sheer number of wine blogs published today. The fact that Wilma would even qualify is a tremendous honor and something I'm very proud of for both myself and my staff.
Now comes the important part, public voting, which ends Thursday, July 26, 2012. Please cast your ballot! Each category winner will be chosen based on 50% of the input coming from the judges and 50% coming from the public vote. Congratulations to all the finalists, and may the best blog win!
Click on this link to cast your vote: http://www.surveymonkey.com/s/WBA12. I promise it will only take 10-15 seconds of your time. In addition to Best Industry/Business Wine Blog, you can also vote for Best Blog Post of the Year, Best Original Photography or Video on a Wine Blog, Best Wine Reviews on a Wine Blog, Best Single Subject Wine Blog, Best Winery Blog, Best Writing On a Wine Blog, Best New Wine Blog, and Best Overall Wine Blog.
Thank You! Gracias! Merci! Danke! Grazie! Obrigado!
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