Michael Wangbickler

Before moving to wine country a decade ago, Michael Wangbickler knew virtually nothing about wine. Oh sure, he knew which was red and which was white (most of the time), but he was no expert by any stretch of the imagination. He does, however, have an obsession for the good life and that certainly includes wine. Undaunted by his ignorance, he threw himself into learning everything he could about the subject and now holds a Diploma in Wine & Spirits (DWS) from London-based Wine and Spirit Education Trust (WSET) and is a Certified Wine Educator (CWE). They even let him teach now. In addition to teaching wine appreciation and WSET classes, Mike is also in hot demand at conferences around the world and presents on wine and food, and social media. While he hates the word “expert”, he is Balzac’s social media whiz. We just call him “expert” behind his back when he’s not listening. Mike currently holds a position (not sure whether it’s warrior pose or downward-facing dog) at Balzac Communications and Marketing in Napa, California. In addition, he also sits on the Board of Directors for the Drink Local Wine organization.

Oct 122015
 

Michigan Wine - Chateau Chantal

This summer, my family and I took a trip to Traverse City, Michigan to spend some R&R and check out Michigan wine country. Not many folks outside of the state ever consider Michigan wine, but they should. The mitten state has some very dedicated and talented winemakers, and it shows in the quality of the wines they craft.

There are several winegrowing AVAs within the state. The best, in my opinion, are the Leelanau and Old Mission Peninsulas, which is where we spent our time on this trip. I’ve been to the area before, but before I could legally drink. So, needless to say, it had been a while. As we drove from winery to winery, I was struck by the beauty of the area. I’ve been wine tasting in a lot of regions, including California (all over), Oregon, Washington, Virginia, Texas, New York, Maryland, Missouri, Colorado, Ohio, Spain, Italy, and France. Hands down, the most beautiful region has to be the Old Mission Peninsula. It was absolutely stunning! I highly recommend a visit.

Not only are the views tremendous, but the people are friendly, helpful, and hospitable. It reminded me a bit of Napa Valley in the old days. There was an obvious love of the area and its wine in everyone we met.

Michigan is known for producing great Rieslings. And they are. While I don’t pretend to know all the nuances of the growing conditions, I’d wager it’s a combination of latitude, lake effect, and soil type. In addition to Riesling, however, the area produces a number of other Vitus Vinifera and hybrid varietals. We tasted some great Chardonnay, Pinot Gris, Cabernet Franc, and Gewurztraminer. I think the region has some room for improvement with their Pinot Noir.

In addition to grape wines, the state is the country’s leader in the production of fruit wine such as cherry wine. We tried a few of these, and they were quite good.

During our time, we visited Chateau Chantal, 2 Lads Winery, Bowers Harbor Vineyards, and Black Star Farms, and had a wonderful experience at each. I also recommend wines from Left Foot Charley, L. Mawby, and Chateau Grand Traverse.

Sep 292015
 

One Good Day

I met Peter Nowack at the 2014 Wine Bloggers Conference. I instantly found him witty and sarcastic. Needless to say, I liked him immediately. Not long after our meeting, Peter received a rather dire prognosis–Stage 4 prostate cancer. Most of us (probably me included) would crawl up in a corner and wait for the inevitable. Not Peter. He began a crusade to help others in similar situations. He launched an initiative called One Good Day and a website (OneGoodDay.org), which led to a non-profit to help those with incurable cancer to enjoy “one good day”. Over the past couple of months, I’ve worked with Peter to help him with his communications about the organization. Below is a press release from today:

Bay Area Cancer Survivor Starts Non-Profit to Benefit Others with Incurable Cancer

OneGoodDay.org empowers lower-income adults with incurable cancer to have “one good day”

September 29, 2015 (San Francisco/Oakland, CA) – What would you do should Life hand you a death sentence? Diagnosed with incurable cancer, long-time Bay Area resident, Peter Nowack, has launched OneGoodDay.org, a charity committed to improving quality of life for lower-income adults with incurable cancer by offering micro-grants so that these deserving individuals might enjoy “one good day” with loved ones when they need it most.

“As someone with incurable cancer, I’ve learned that the best gift I can ever receive is one good day with family and friends,” says Bay Area resident Peter Nowack, Founder and Executive Director of OneGoodDay.org. “I started OneGoodDay so that lower-income adults with incurable cancer would be able to realize their own “one good day” – a day that has profound, personal meaning.”

“One good day is different for every adult facing incurable cancer,” says Nowack. “It might be a reunion with a distant relative. A special meal with one’s all-grown-up daughter or son. A walk on the beach with your life partner. Or one last adventure with a friend you’ve known for a lifetime.” Nowack notes that OneGoodDay is not about bucket lists, getting the keys to the city, or meeting the President. “It’s about small stuff. Human-scale stuff. Stuff that touches the senses,” Nowack says. “The kind of stuff that makes a real difference on a deeply personal level.”

Diagnosed in October, 2014 with very aggressive, incurable Stage 4 prostate cancer, Nowack wants to commit the measure of his days to making a difference for others in similar situations. “Terminal cancer is not limited to the wealthy, well-connected, or well-insured. Lower-income individuals often lack the resources to provide for basic needs, let alone things that will boost their quality of life.”

“People with incurable cancer deal with physical and emotional challenges every day,” says Dr. Ashok Pai, an oncologist in the San Francisco Bay Area. “We clinicians do our best to slow down the advance of the cancer, and can help patients deal with their symptoms. OneGoodDay.org has the real potential to improve quality of life for lower-income adults with incurable cancer every day.”

Media outlets interested in interviewing Mr. Nowack, hearing his story, and learning more about OneGoodDay.org may reach him directly at pnowack@onegoodday.org.

OneGoodDay.org is seeking financial support to grow its outreach to lower-income adults and their caregivers in the oncology community, and to issue more micro-grants to deserving patients with incurable cancer. With sufficient funding, OneGoodDay.org can touch the lives of hundreds, perhaps thousands, of lower-income adults with incurable cancer. Individuals interested in making donations may do so by visiting http://OneGoodDay.org. Companies interested in supporting OneGoodDay.org should contact pnowack@onegoodday.org.

About OneGoodDay.org

Founded in 2015 by long-time Oakland resident Peter Nowack, OneGoodDay.org is a 501(c)(3) charity committed to improving quality of life for lower-income adults with incurable cancer. OneGoodDay issues micro-grants so that these deserving individuals might have the means to enjoy “one good day” that will make a real difference, at a deeply personal level.

Feb 112015
 

Bottle Talk with Rick & Paul

TTB Contributor Paul Wagner recently launched a radio talk show about wine with long-time writer and broadcaster Rick Kushman.  “Bottle Talk with Rick and Paul,” is a cheeky, irreverent show that makes wine fun for everyone. The show seeks to level the tasting bar for would-be wine enthusiasts everywhere.

“Wine shouldn’t make you feel as if you’re being tested to join a secret Skull & Bones Society,” says Kushman. “People who make wine too snooty should be sentenced to drinking boxed prune juice.”

Each week, the duo is joined by some of the top names in the world of wine. The streaming radio show aims to break new ground in conversations about wine and includes questions from listeners, interviews, wine recommendations, and an all-out assault on wine snobs everywhere.

Kushman is the author of the New York Times bestseller The Barefoot Spirit, the story of the founding and unique marketing of Barefoot Cellars.  He is an award-wining journalist and the wine commentator for Capital Public Radio, Sacramento’s NPR affiliate, as well as a regular guest host for the station’s highest profile show, “Insight.”

Wagner, an industry veteran, teaches wine courses at Napa Valley College and the Culinary Institute of America at Greystone.  With Liz Thach and Janeen Olsen, he authored the book, Wine Marketing & Sales, Strategies for a Saturated Market, which won the Gourmand International Award for the best wine book of the year for professionals.

Among their guests are Warren Winiarski, whose 1973 Cabernet Sauvignon won the great Paris tasting of 1976 against top French Chateaux; Traci Dutton, Sommelier at the Culinary Institute of America; Master Sommeliers James Tidwell and Drew Hendricks of TEXSOM and the TEXSOM International Wine Awards, and Ricardo Riccicurbastro, the President of the Federation of DOCs in Italy.

“Bottle Talk with Rick & Paul” airs a new show every Tuesday at 11 a.m. Pacific time on 1440 KVON Radio in Napa Valley and at http://www.rickandpaulwine.com/.  Prior shows are available on the site, as is information about sponsorship.

Oct 132014
 

It’s Drink Local Wine Week 2014, and we kicked it off with a trip to TasteCamp in Hudson Valley, New York. For those in the know, New York is one of the top five wine producing states in the nation. When most people think of New York wine, however, they would most likely choose the Finger Lakes and maybe Long Island. Hudson Valley wine wouldn’t be high on their list. Well, I’m here to tell you that they make some pretty damned decent wine in Hudson Valley.

Is it the caliber of Napa Valley or Willamette Valley? Well, no, probably not. They still have some growing up to do; ironically, since they claim the oldest continually operating winery and oldest planted vineyard in the country.  They haven’t quite found their identity like the Finger Lakes has with cold climate varieties such as Riesling and Long Island has with Bordeaux varieties such as Merlot and Cabernet Franc. Cold climate varieties show a lot of promise, as do several hybrid varieties. Cabernet Franc could also be a contender.

That said, they have all the right ingredients. First, they are in the backyard of the biggest wine market in the country. By far, New York City is the 800 pound gorilla when it comes to the wine business. But, because they are so close, Hudson Valley wine has two major advantages: access and price.  Second, they have enthusiastic winemakers who work together to promote the overall Hudson Valley wine community. I was told by Yancey Stanforth-Migliore at Whitecliff Vineyard that they frequently meet with other winemakers to taste and critique their own wines. Third, they’re not afraid to ask for help. Several wineries we visited use outside consultants from the Finger Lakes, Long Island, and beyond. Ben and Kimberly Peacock of Tousey Winery regularly consult with Peter Bell at Fox Run Winery, arguably one of the best producers in the Finger Lakes area. And finally, they aren’t trying to be something they’re not. Unlike many wine regions who emulate Burgundy, Bordeaux, or Napa, by planting Chardonnay and Cabernet everywhere and try to produce “international-style” wine, Hudson Valley wines seem to embrace their uniqueness, whether intentional or not.

The attendees to TasteCamp had the opportunity to taste dozens of wines. The following are some of the standouts.

Millbrook - Hudson Valley Wine

The converted barn at Millbrook Vineyards & Winery.

Millbrook Vineyards & Winery

In 1979, John Dyson, former New York State Commissioner of Agriculture, purchased the old Wing Dairy Farm and converts it to wine production. A few years later, in 1985, Dyson hires winemaker John Graziano and Millbrook Vineyards and Winery is established as a commercial winery. Today, the winery farms roughly 140 acres, which probably places it among the largest in the Hudson River Region.  The winery is a converted barn and is really something to behold. It’s rustic, yet it really works for the area. I liked their Proprietor’s Special Reserve Hudson River Region Cabernet Franc 2012 ($30) and Proprietor’s Special Reserve Hudson River Region Chardonnay 2012 ($25).

Winemaker Cristop - Hudson valley Wine

Winemaker Kristop Brown with a little intro for TasteCamp attendees.

Robibero Family Vineyards

Harry and Carole Robibero purchased their 42 acre estate in 2003, and began making their own wines in 2007. Today, their winemaker, Kristop Brown, is pushing the Robibero family to grow and improve. They are small now, but have plans for gradual grown, and will be planting a new vineyard soon. I liked the New York State Cabernet Franc 2012 ($40) and the New York State Traminette 2013 ($19).

Benmarl Winery

Overlooking the historic Hudson River Valley, it’s 37 acre estate lays claim to the oldest vineyard in America. The winery also holds New York Farm Winery license no.1. Matthew Spaccarelli is Winemaker and General Manager, and he makes arguably the best Cabernet Franc I tasted all weekend. I liked the Seneca Lake Semi-Dry Riesling 2012 ($17.99) and the Ridge Road Estate Hudson River Region Cabernet Franc 2012 (N/A).

Whitecliff Vineyard & Winery

Michael Migliore and Yancey Stanforth-Migliore literally built Whitecliff Vineyard & Winery from the ground up in what was an empty field thirty years ago. They built the winery, they planted the vineyards, and they made the wine. They have a sweet story. They are both avid rock climbers and met each other while climbing the nearby Shawangunk Ridge. The ridge can be seen from the winery, and is the inspiration for the name of the winery. I liked the Estate Bottled Hudson River Region Cabernet Franc 2013 ($22.95) and New York Riesling 2013 ($16.95).

Tousey Winery - Hudson valley Wine

Tousey Winery may be humble, but they make damn good wine.

Tousey Vineyard

Tousey Vineyard began as a family-run enterprise (and still is today) by Ray Tousey. The winery is now run by Ben and Kimberly Peacock – Ray’s daughter.  They are kind of the new kids on the block, but as such they bring a more modern sensability to a pretty traditional area. Kimberly and Ben are young and enthusiastic, and it shows in their wines. Their strong suit is their Rieslings, but they are make reds under a second label. I liked the Estate Grown Hudson River Dry Riesling 2013, Estate Grown Hudson River Riesling 2013, and Estate Grown Hudson River Reserve Riesling 2013. I don’t think the 2013 wines are officially released, hence no prices listed.

Hudson-Chatham Winery

I’ve known owner Carlo Devito for years. He was largely responsible for organizing TasteCamp this year. Quite frankly, he has a screw loose, but you’ll never meet a nicer guy. He’d give you the shirt off his back if you asked for it. But, he’s also a brilliant marketer and built Hudson-Chatham Winery into a powerhouse. His signature grape? Single Vineyard Baco Noir. I kid you not. And it’s good! I’ve had the priviledge of tasting through several vintages and several vineyards. they are really unique and something to seek out.

There were also several creamery visits, a distillery tour and tasting, and some sightseeing around the Hudson Valley, but that is a tale for another post and perhaps another blog.

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.