Jul 172014
 

2014-06-30 20.23.43No one can accuse John Geber of lacking imagination or lacking enthusiasm. He exudes enthusiasm from the moment you meet him and, as for his imagination, well, it runs rampant.

Most people riding their bicycles past an abandoned building would keep on riding, but not John. Instead, while cycling through the Barossa Valley one day, he chanced upon a chateau for sale and decided to buy it on the spot. After the deal had been made, John called his wife to share the news. The couple are clearly made for each other since she first asked him how many bedrooms the chateau contained rather than the more rational question: “Are you insane?”

John’s new purchase was originally built in 1890, and as the largest chateau in Australia it is the size of three football fields and three stories high. After the deal closed, the chateau was eventually fully renovated and its vineyards restored, giving birth to the Chateau Tanunda brand of wines.

Among Chateau Tanunda’s previous marketing efforts, John used to bring 20 people down to Australia each year to visit his property. But, he recognized that such an approach was inefficient and changed tactics. John decided to do what any reasonable person (oh right, we already decided he was insane), he bought a yacht; now, he brings Australia to the U.S.

The Grand Barossa Cru yacht has kept John “on the road” quite a bit in past several months. Setting sail from Boca Raton, FL on May 6th of this year, the yacht has traveled the eastern seaboard, during which time it visited 18 different ports of call and held 65 events over the course of 60 days. The boat and crew arrived in New York City in late June, entertaining wine and lifestyle writers with Australian cuisine, a brief jaunt in the harbor and, of course, the Grand Barossa wines.

Additionally, John shared his three key messages with us:

  • “Australia is not a brand called Yellow Tail
  • The Barossa Valley is one of the five most important valleys in the world of wine and the only one located in the Southern Hemisphere
  • The Barossa Valley is the “Napa Valley” of Australia, at a third of the price, and it has more varieties than just Shiraz.”

During the voyage, we had the pleasure of tasting several wines including Riesling, Chardonnay, Cabernet Sauvignon and Shiraz. Among my favorite was the Chardonnay, which despite having a small portion fermented in French oak, is surprisingly fresh and elegant. As John noted, “We are not carpenters.” All of wines had great, vibrant acidity and were well suited to enjoy with food, whether at home or on a sea cruise.

Jul 122014
 

As a wine publicist, in addition to a wine blogger, I probably look at wine events in a slightly different way than most other attendees. I can’t help it. I’m always looking at how things are organized and what I believe is their effectiveness. One of my biggest criticisms of wineries in general, and especially of European producers, is their tendency to over-complicate their marketing programs. These companies miss the point that they have ONE shot at making an impression. Yet, many of them consistently try to stuff ten pounds of crap into a five pound bag. By doing so, they dilute their main message and confuse their audience. When dealing with the average consumer, this can cost you the sale of a bottle or two of wine. When dealing with influencers like wine media or trade, it can cost you more than that.

Wines of Portugal Brunch

Here’s an example… At this week’s Wine Bloggers Conference (#wbc14) the Wines of Portugal hosted a brunch for all the attendees. What a great idea! Yet, in many ways, I feel they missed the mark. Take a look at the menu above. Notice anything? They served cuisine from four different regions, each paired with three different wines. The cuisines chosen were from Portugal (obviously) and three former areas where the Portuguese had colonies/influence. What was the message here? That Portugal was once a great empire and a shadow of it’s former glory? Probably not what they were going for.

Okay, looking past that, I get that they were trying to show that Portuguese wines can pair with different types of cuisine. But, the dishes were served out of hotel trays, not plated. Okay, this may be a preference thing, but food from hotel trays rarely show well. It’s too reminiscent of the school cafeteria. Again, not the image they were probably looking for.  They could have easily communicated this more effectively with ONE dish from each of these areas, plated and served. Why three?

In addition, there was very little information provided about the wines themselves. What were the varieties used? What were the regions, and what made them unique? Why is Portuguese wine relevant? How is the health of the category overall? These are key pieces of information that they failed to communicate.

Lines at Brunch

Oddly, for 300 people, they only had four pouring stations with each of the three wines, which led to long lines of thirsty bloggers waiting for their turn. They also had to juggle their small plates of food, while attempting to taste the wine. I couldn’t really figure out how the wines were segmented, or what the message was.

Okay, so what was the overall goal here? Having worked with European clients extensively over the past ten years, I can read between the lines. The Wines of Portugal wanted to show off that they are sophisticated, cosmopolitan, and food friendly. Okay, they may have achieved that. Was it a benefit to the individual producers? Doubtful. I’d wager that very few of the bloggers in the room will remember or care what each of the wines were. They were too busy having “fun” with the food and beverage. If I was one of these wineries, I’d want to see some blog posts or social media activity specifically about my wine, not just general comments about the brunch.

So, how would I have done it differently? First, I would have reduced the number of dishes served and really focus on the best-of-the-best dishes from each region. Make the focus less on the food, and more on the wine. Second, I’d ditch the pairing idea. Few consumers care about wine and food pairing, and that is generally who reads these blogs. Third, I’d increase the number of tables for wine pouring and segment the wines by DO. This would give each of the wine regions and the individual producers a chance to shine and position them in a way that differentiates them from the other areas. Finally, I would have more information about the wines available for the attendees. Whether it be signage, handouts, maps, etc. There should be something.

So, what are the key points you want your audience to walk away with? You’ll have no more than three pieces of information you can convey, and often only ONE. What should it be? Every winery or wine region should think about that before embarking on any marketing program.

In the end, I’m sure that the Wines or Portugal will consider this event a success, but I can’t help but feel that the impression they conveyed to the group was confused and ineffective.

Jul 092014
 

Wine Bloggers Conference

This week, the Wine Bloggers Conference (#WBC14) returns to California for the first time in five years. The 7th annual conference will take place in Santa Barbara County July 10 to July 12.

I’ve been to all but one of the past conferences. I missed the 2011 conference because my sister was getting married. I asked her to move the wedding, but she didn’t go for it for some reason. That year has become legend for the hot weather they saw, so I’m not too terribly disappointed I missed it.

I always look forward to the Wine Bloggers Conference, as it’s an opportunity to reconnect with old friends and make new ones. I’ve been involved in the wine blogging community from the very start. There were very few of us at that first conference in Sonoma oh so many years ago. Boy, how things have changed. My list of active wine blog contacts now exceeds 800 individuals, and probably 300-400 of them will be at this year’s WBC. That’s a huge group of like-minded wine enthusiasts who, as individuals, don’t have a lot of influence, but in aggregate, definitely can move the needle for wineries.

The fact that its back in California should have an impact on the attention that many of the sponsors receive. Most of the wine produced in this country is from California. And, in fact, the population of wine bloggers in California is much bigger than other areas, so it’s more convenient for many to attend.

I’ve been through Santa Barbara wine country before, and was impressed by what I saw and experienced. I can’t wait to see what the Santa Barbara County Vintners’ Association and Visit Santa Barbara (both Elite Sponsors) have to offer as they pull out all the stops to impress this group of influential bloggers.

I honestly don’t learn much from the sessions at the Wine Bloggers Conference much anymore, so it really is all about the people and the wines. See you in Santa Barbara!

Jun 092014
 

Ian Cauble MS

Master Sommelier Ian Cauble has a new project. For those unfamiliar with Ian, he was one of a handful of individuals featured in SOMM, a documentary film about candidates who attempt to pass the prestigious Master Sommelier exam, a test with one of the lowest pass rates in the world. In fact, there are only 211 professionals worldwide who have received the title of Master Sommelier since the first Master Sommelier Diploma Exam in 1969. Ian is one of those. He recently launched a new web site called SommSelect.

Ian started the site with co-founder Brandon Carneiro, whom he had met while they were both undergrads. Both had ended up with careers in wine. A few months ago, they launched SommSelect as a way to give consumers access to sommelier-selected wines. Still in Beta, SommSelect has new wines featured daily that are limited production and only for the early members of SommSelect to purchase. They state that the site is not about featuring the most affordable wines, but rather offering the best wines at an affordable price that have been tried and tested and now recommended by one of the world’s leading authorities on wine.  Ian also plans to occasionally offer more spendy offerings when warranted.

“We connected last year after Ian had been in the movie, mainly because I had seen a void in the market for a site like this,” says Brandon. “Something where people could see a daily curated wine from an expert Master Somm and buy wine.  We didn’t want to discount the wines like a flash site, but simply offer one great curated wine each day.  I told Ian about the idea and he liked it.  The rest is history.  We decided to work together and then started putting the project together.”

While SommSelect is still technically in beta, wine enthusiasts may still sign up to receive offers and purchase the daily feature. While there are similar kinds of sites, this is the first I’ve seen to really leverage a top wine personality who mostly knows what he’s talking about. The wines are not selected by some anonymous buyer who is looking for the best deal he can offer, but by an expert.

“These are wine selections I believe are the best from a specific grape varietal, region and price-point,” says Ian. “We offer wines from all price points from about $12 to $100s of dollars and we offer free shipping on purchases at about $100. There are other sites out there that offer daily wine selections, but our approach is focused on small production wines that I truly believe are the best of class. I don’t believe there are any other Master Sommeliers offering curated wine selection on the internet so we are a bit unique.”

You can sign up to receive emails about their daily offerings.

 

May 302014
 

Artisan tableEntertaining seems to have come full circle. While intricately formal dinner parties are no longer de rigeur, the renewed focus on cocktail and dinner parties seems to imply that hosts have abandoned an haphazard approach in favor of paying attention to details and ensuring that their guests are well cared for.

This renewed emphasis on creating the perfect environment in which to entertain now extends beyond the home and into restaurants, where white plates have been banished in many establishments, which is fortunate for Jono Pandolfi. This ceramics designer has now become well-known for his dinnerware collaborations with notable chefs at high-profile restaurants such as 11 Madison Park and Nomad. You can dress your table with equally impressive style, thanks to Pandolfi’s joint project with Crate & Barrel.

Once the table has been beautifully set, adorning it with delicious food and fabulous wine is the obvious next step. At a recent event held at the Scott Conant Culinary Suite, a test kitchen space in New York’s Soho neighborhood for the noted restaurateur, the artful table brought a trusted name to the bottle and glass.

Known for its Extra Virgin Olive Oil (the #1 Italian Brand in the U.S.), the Colavita family has entered the world of wine production in partnership with Terlato Wines. In recognition that “Italy’s two most important food products are olive oil and wine,” the co-founders of Colavita USA (Enrico Colavita and John J. Profaci) were prompted to create their own brand of wine and looked to Terlato to help them realize their dream.

As explained by Giovanni Colavita, CEO of Colavita, the family approached winemaking the same way they approach olive oil production – identifying and working with the best producers throughout Italy. In this regard, the grapes for each wine are sourced from a specific region and are iconic of that region.

The collaboration and approach are certainly novel, but the selection of wines proved worthy of such an elegantly set table.

The current Colavita-Terlato portfolio includes four wines:

ColavitaColavita Pinot Grigio 2012, Trentino, Italy, $15.00
From northeastern Italy, this wine is fermented in stainless steel and is a young, fresh wine with bright acidity and nice citrus aromas and flavors.

Colavita Verdicchio di Matelica 2012, Marche, Italy, $15.00
Located in central Italy, the Marche region is known for the Verdicchio grape, which shows off the mineral characteristics of the calcareous soils, especially in the Matelica zone.

Colavita Pinot Nero 2012, Provincia di Pavia, Lombardy, Italy, $15.00
Lombardy is known for growing Pinot Nero (aka Pinot Noir) for the production of Franciacorta, a Traditional Method sparkling wine. Here the grapes are used for crafting a well-made still wine with vibrant cherry and herbal notes. A truly fabulous Pinot Noir at this price!

Colavita Valpolicella Ripasso 2011, Veneto, Italy, $23.00
A blend primarily of Corvina (70%), with Rondinella (20%) and Corvinone (10%), this wine is made using partially-dried grapes – the ripasso in Valpolicella Ripasso – which adds richness and body to the resulting wine.