Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Taste Washington

The big Taste Washington was this weekend in Seattle. This is the biggest wine event in the state. I hope it went well for all involved. Why wasn't I there? If Quiceda Creek and Leonetti don't go, why should I?

Bonair Winery has attended this event for years, from its inception at the old Paramount Theater. From a promotional point of view, it never had any value for our winery. I was looking at the list of over 200 (I didn't count them) wineries and all are trying to push $20+ bottles of wine in a market that buys Three-buck Chuck at Trader Joes.

The event used to be free for wineries, I would attend because they had a great oyster bar and I love oysters on the half shell. They limited us to three wines and asked us to bring two cases of each. So for a while I lugged six cases from the parking lot into the hall and placed them under the table. I poured one bottle of white and two bottles of red and lugged five cases, 9 bottles back to the car. I thought trading three bottles of ten-dollar wine for an unlimited oyster bar was a good deal. The last time I went, I showed up with a mixed case and took nine bottles back to the car. That was a lot easier, but the oyster bar wasn't as good - no European flats.

They used to have a pre-event for the trade. (Maybe they still do. I didn't even read the literature they emailed me.) Supposedly, this was for sommeliers, wine shop owners, and buyers for QFC. This was a joke because the trade didn't care, so they gave their tickets to friends so they could get in free. There was actually less interest in the wines during this pre-session than during the public session where people actually shelled out $75 per person to get in. These people were there for the free food and booze courtesy their friends with connections.

The last time I went, Steve Burns was still the head of the Washington Wine Commission. He placed all of the Walla wineries in one location and the Yakima Valley wineries in another. Because Steve had so effectively marketed Walla, the people flocked to that area. Those poor wineries poured out of their six cases of $80 wine in no time. (They were not happy about that! $5760 in free wine.) Then people wandered over just looking for booze. I spent the afternoon with this conversation (I kid you not).

Person, "Bonair, I've never heard of you. Are you new?"

Grumpy, "Well, that's relative. In Europe wineries are hundreds of years old. This is our 25th anniversary. We started in 1985. We were the 29th winery in Washington. We are one of the oldest wineries in the state, but from a world view, yes, we are new. Have you been living under a rock or are you just stupid? You know, Ron White says you can't fix stupid." (Actually, they had been reading press releases from the Wine Commission or articles written from those press releases which don't acknowledge Zillah exists, so I should be more forgiving of their ignorance.)

Person, "Where are you located?"

Grumpy, "We are in Zillah Zillah." (I thought doubling it would emphasize the meaning, maybe making it magic like Walla Walla.)

Person, "I've never heard of Zillah. Where is that?"

Grumpy, "On your way to Walla, Buttbreath. You drive right past it. It's about halfway between Walla and Seattle on Interstate 82. Two hours and fifteen minutes from Issaquah. Have you heard of Issaquah?"

Person, "I'll look for your wines in the grocery store." (on a cold day in Hell) That makes me feel really good since (at that time) we only sold in a few wine shops and at the winery. I hate condescending people.

Grumpy, "Yeah, right! Don't look too hard. You might strain your eyes."

As a tracking incentive, I gave out discount coupons for any wine purchased at the winery. None were ever redeemed. Note to wineries: Always give out tracking cookies at promotional events! See if they really work for you. Give big ones like buy one bottle and get a second of equal value or less for free. Don't worry, it won't cost you a dime.

Now it costs $175 to $225 for wineries to attend. If 2000 people attend, that is ten persons per winery. Divide $225 by ten and you get $22.50 for each person who has the above inane conversation with you. Per person, this is really expensive advertising.

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