Thursday, April 29, 2010

The Law of Unintended Consequences

Wine Yakima Valley came up with a really good idea, or so they thought. Why not upgrade the annual Spring Barrel Tasting to a class event and charge $35 to attend. This fee would encourage wineries to upgrade their offerings, since people paid good money for the ticket and would have higher expectations, and it would weed out the riffraff. After all, only serious wine tasters would pay $35 for a ticket to sample wine from the barrel along with ultra-premium, hand-crafted, award-winning, micro-oxygenated, wines.

We here at Bonair Winery are not members of WYV, but we roll out the barrel anyway since people aren't aware that there are two organizations and each is not cheap to join. Next year, Bonair is considering being open, but not doing barrel sampling that weekend. After all, we have our Barrel Tasting Rattlesnake Hills Style the weekend before. Barrel Tasting Rattlesnake Hills Style is a fairly quiet event with serious wine drinkers trying to beat the party crowd the following weekend. And BTRHS remains a free event. We appreciate the fact that our visitors come to sample and buy wine.

On SBT we had to deal with 5 full-sized buses, several smaller buses, and an untold number of limos. Buses are the biggest problem. I wouldn't be too grumpy if they drank real beer on the bus, but they drink a fermented rice beverage called Buttwiper made by a company call Andhowsyourbush?. We have a person meet each bus to tell them it is against state law to bring alcohol onto the licensed premise. We also tell them if they appear in the least intoxicated we will not serve them. Then they appear at my tasting station with a Buttwiper soaked Riedel glass (that's class), a wrist band, and tell me, "just pour me anything." Meaning I don't give a shit as long as it is alcohol. "I paid for this binge and I'm out to get smashed." One bus claimed one of our pourers was not friendly (imagine that; faced by 50 unbeer drinking alcoholics) and promised not to return next year. Unfortunately we didn't get it in writing, but if you are reading this, thank you, you won't be missed.

Cutting down the amount of alcohol is the only way to bring WYV's SBT under control. (Some wineries have several barrel samples!) plus all the bottled wine. (Don't forget the Cores Light, brewed with Rocky Mountain goat piss, on the bus or in the motor home.) I would recommend that each winery choose a barrel to sample, a corresponding bottle sample, and one other wine. Three samples total at each winery.

In Grumpy's opinion, charging for the event has turned it into a prepaid, all-you-can-drink free-for-all drunk. "I paid my money, I have a wrist band that looks like I escaped from a mental hospital (or am staying at a time-share condo) and now I'm out to get my share of all the booze I can consume."

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Mother Nature Smiles on the Washington Wine Industry - or Is This Just Another Cruel Joke?

Paul Gregutt was worried about the early spring in Washington wine country. Things seemed to be two or three weeks early which would subject the tender grape shoots to weeks of killing frost. As soon as April rolled around things cooled down quite a bit and we officially had bud break April 18 here in the Rattlesnake Hills, at most only six days early. The forecast is for moderate nighttime temperatures through the next week, I have never seen a grape-killing frost in the Rattlesnake Hills after April 24, so it looks like we are home free. Or are we………?

Last Winter Mutha Natured smiled on us again. Yes, Canada came to visit, but the jet stream was not really strong and the temperatures in Canada we not that cold before the event. We recorded -1o here at the winery which is one of the colder places in the Rattlesnake Hills AVA. Grapes were hardy down to -4 o to -6 o, depending on variety, so there was no damage. Looks like a great year for growers who will all have a full crop.

So what's not to be happy about? Well, the upcoming glut of grapes on the market. Winter freezes weed out new vines over old mature vines. Spring frosts damage those vines planted in lowlands where they should never have been planted anyway. The combination cuts quantity and improves quality at the same time. This year everything will produce, including those several thousand acres of new vines that people planted in order to get rich in the wine industry.

Each August the Washington Association of Wine Grape Growers (WAWGG pronounced 'wag') publishes a confidential price list for growers to use in negotiating prices with wineries. It will be interesting to see what WAWWG comes up with this year. Of course, urban wineries are unaware of this publication, so they pay ridiculously high prices for grapes and that is really good for growers. They laugh out loud all the way to the bank. What with wine sales over $20 stalled, it will be interesting to see if these garagistes even crush. I had a fellow winemaker who waited for the state average price report to come from the USDA in December and that is what he paid for his grapes because it was usually lower than WAWWG. Good grapes can always be found for reasonable prices. Wineries need to balance their costs with keeping growers in business.

I just got the Wine Business Classified and there are some scary items listed for sale. For example: 250 tons 2010 Red Mtn grapes available (that is a lot of garagistes). 50,000 gallons 2009 Wahluke chardonnay available. (the ABC movement got them!). '08 barrel aged Cab, Merlot, and Syrah for sale. (Damn, production beats marketing again!).

All of this will have downward pressure on grape prices which will adversely affect growers. Time to rip out the old vinifera and plant, well, uh, plant what everyone else is planting - whatever that might be. That's what farmers do.

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Confessions of a Blogging Winemaker

Grumpy (entering blog confessional), "Forgive me father for I have sinned."

Blog Priest, "Yes son, what have you done this time?"

Grumpy, "Well, I had sex with this girl, no wait, that was a long time ago. I already confessed that several times. I, well, I wrote in my blog that I would no longer enter wine in competitions, and I succumbed to sin and entered one. You see, it wasn't really my fault. Christopher Chan, who heads the Seattle Wine Awards, personally invited me to enter our wines. He said 'he would love to see our wines' in the competition this year. Perhaps he read my blog is was just tempting me."

Blog Priest, "And what did you enter, my son?"

Grumpy, "Well, I noticed they had an 'under $20' category and the 2007 Bonair Yakima Valley Merlot and the 2008 Bonair Yakima Valley Chardonnay are available for under $12 in the Puget Sound area. They haven't' taken off like the 2008 Bonair Yakima Valley Cabernet Sauvignon. I thought that under $20 price point might separate Bonair from the big fat Walla fruit bombs. You see, our wines are food friendly and under 14% alcohol. In fact, Father, the Merlot would go well with stale crackers. You might consider a couple of cases. But now I have reservations what with all the re-labeled Walla stuff that they are trying to move at $15. It's the same as the $30 stuff. The under $20 category might be crammed with hundreds of expensive wines re-labeled to be dumped cheap!"

Blog Priest, "You are forgiven my son. Drink three white zinfandels and one California hardly burgundy. Bless you my son."

Grumpy, " Whoa Father, I didn't think lying on your blog was that serious. That is a terrible penance."

Blog Priest, "Make that two California hardly burgundies."

Thursday, April 15, 2010

First Wine to Score 101

The Wine Expectorator, in a press release and news conference, announced that in the May issue they would feature the first wine to score over the once sacred limit of a perfect 100. "This wine is incredible!" a spokesman for the Expectorator commented. "It will set a new standard in winemaking for all wineries to aspire to." Though he did not reveal the name, variety, or origin of the wine, he further stated, "to find out the name of the wine, you will have to buy the magazine. After all," he continued, "isn't that what it is all about? There were only 1000 cases produced, so the chances of a schmuck like you getting a bottle are basically zero." The grapes were picked at 27 brix. The wine has been micro-oxygenated to remove all varietal character and it was stored in 200% new French oak. The empty bottle weighed in at 1.42 Kg and the cork was an astounding 5.72 cm long. He did admit that the high-scoring winery had purchased the full-color inside front cover, the inside back cover, and the back cover of that issue. He vehemently denied any collusion between the editorial staff and the advertising staff saying it was merely a coincidence, "They are a regular advertiser."

Robert Parker was not available for comment, but a secret source close to Mr. Parker said he was livid that someone should dare exceed the 100 mark he created before him. He reportedly threw his Riedel wine glass across the room, smashing it against a bottle of 1961 Lafite given to him by the winery for his last round of inflated scores. He vowed to "get even" by finding a wine that rated at least 102. Our source hinted, "Don't be surprised if it goes as high as 104."

When asked the impact on the consumer, the Expectorator spokesperson responded, "This wine will be the new standard for consumers who don't know shit about wine to aid in choosing a wine that will impress their friends. It will give wineries an incentive to produce more expensive wines and buy more advertising with us. We all know those wines rated 90 to 95 are pretty ho-hum and available at bargain rates at Grocery Outlet. Now, if you don't score at least a 97, you are not in the game. It will continue to supply the consumer with high priced wines that they have to beg to purchase. This in turn will aid wineries that have waiting lists to get on the mailing lists."

When grilled about the rating of Bonair Wines, the spokesperson replied, "I have not heard of that winery. They do not advertise with us and they don't send us free wine for our parties or to use as gifts for our expensive escorts."

Friday, April 9, 2010

How to Advertise and Promote Your Winery

Everybody wants a piece of the winery action. After all, wineries are cash cows that just need to be milked, right?

Yellow Pages: When people go wine tasting, they will just look in the yellow pages under wineries. Wrongo Buckwheat. Have you ever looked for wineries to visit in the yellow pages? Anyway, we get a free listing in the places to visit section of the phone book which might be useful to someone bored to death of porno movies in a hotel room.

Newspapers: usually these are sold two ways. 1) the business card ad at the side of some even being promoted. Or 2) the thank-you ad for promoting the builder that built your tasting room. Neither is targeted enough to gain any results. I have put redeemable coupons in newspaper ads in the past. The only good part was I never had to redeem a single coupon! Always track your advertising dollars.

Magazines: These usually come as business card type ads around a map of your geographic region. The only problem is that the Rattlesnake Hills AVA has been so badly treated in the press, no one wants to support these rags, so we don't even get a map or get a request anymore. The Rattlesnake Hills Wine Trail is trying a series of ads, tied to some editorial ink, in the Washington State AAA magazine. This should be fairly targeted to the group of people we want to reach. Advertising in wine mags just gets lost in the myriad of tiny ads jammed on each page. If you can't afford at least a half-page, it probably is money down the tube. Print advertising is good for magazines, not wineries.

Brochures: The Rattlesnake Hills Wine Trail publishes an annual brochure listing all 17 wineries. This brochure is available at visitors centers around the state and we pay for distribution at freeway rest stops. Stop at the top of Snoqualmie Pass to take a whizz and pick up a brochure with a map to the wineries. This seems to be pretty targeted advertising.

Freeway Signs: Don't think these work? Think again. Bonair Winery tries to find the sources of our visitors and believe it or not, "I knew there were wineries in the area and I saw your sign" is a common response. You have to be open quite a few days a week to get one, but it is worth is cost.

Visitors and Convention Bureaus: Not only does this get you in good with the local tourist people, they promote members at the visitors information center - especially if they know the visitors will have a good visit. Bonair Winery just signed up for a back-lit sign to go on the wall of the local VIC. There website is a source of many referrals to our website.

Radio & TV: "Hi, this is Jack from KRAP. Do you know you could reach thousands of customers by supporting this ad, 'Bonair Winery is proud to thank our local law enforcement officers this Fourth of July for getting the drunk drivers off the road.'" What the hell are they thinking? Drunk drivers drink Buttwiper in cans, not fine wine. No, we don't encourage driving while intoxicated nor do we want to support your radio station whose readers are either cops or people who drink bad beer.

The Wine Commission: This is a really expensive advertising cost from which we receive little or no benefit. About 1% of our website traffic is generated by them. The Yakima Valley V&C, and the Rattlesnake Hills Wine Trail generate far more visits, but by law we have to send them the largest share of our advertising budget every year. Their board is a bunch of 'good ole boys' from everywhere but the Rattlesnake Hills. I haven't heard from them in over a year.

Enter Competitions: This is a complete waste of money. The entry fees and shipping fees add up fast. Then there is the free wine; usually 4 bottles of each wine entered. Enter three wines in a competition and you just gave away a case. Best of all, nobody gives a rip. See why we don't enter anymore.

Send Wine to Magazine Reviewers: This sounds like a good idea. A 95 from Paul Gregutt in the Wine Enthusiast should really boost sales. Maybe it would, but the best I have received from reviewers was a 91 and a best buy. The wine didn't fly off the shelf. In fact, nobody seemed excited except the staff. We were elated. The opposite end of that sword is an 81. Hopefully, nobody reads this either, so it shouldn't hurt - except the staff of course.

Google Pay per click: This works well for the Rattlesnake Hills Wine Trail. I am just starting a campaign for Bonair Winery. There are thousands of prospective customers in Portland Metro and Puget Sound who have never heard of us. Hopefully, we can reach them through targeted advertising like Google.

Sell wine cheap: Believe it or not, this seems to be the best advertising - only if the wine is good and ours is. After 25 years, we are finally gaining brand recognition in the Puget Sound market.

Give Wine to Events: We recently received this email:
"I host the Del Sol Classic Horse show in Del Mar California. We traditionally support our local wineries and give away 9 cases of wine during our three horse shows each year to our VIPs. Our shows reach over 600 people daily from the Southern California area who compete in the Hunter/Jumper world. Would you be interested in donating your wines for your chance to promote yourself and our pleasure to support you? Please feel free to email or call be to discuss. I am happy to come visit to discuss further opportunities."
So local includes Washington wineries now. I'll bet everyone jumps on this one.

If you have any other ideas on how to lose money in the wine biz, let me know.

Saturday, April 3, 2010

Why Walla Walla Became the Ultimate Washington Wine Country

Before you get a bug up your ass, nothing in this blog is meant to demean or disrespect the Walla Walla wineries or their wine. It is merely my perspective of how the phenomena came about and what the future may hold.

It all started with Dr. Walter Clore who noticed that Walla Walla had the mildest winter climate in Eastern Washington. Since winter kill is the main problem with growing grapes here, he surmised that the Walla Walla Valley would be the best choice for locating vineyards. He didn't check the actual highs and lows, just the average. When we have a polar outbreak, Walla Walla is the coldest place in Eastern Washington. In fact, in 1996 it was 61o on January 14 and -21o on February 2. That kind of swing is tough on grapes. Because it sits under the Blue Mountains, it is subject to late spring and early fall frosts.

Back in the mid '80s there were four very good wineries in Walla Walla: Leonetti, Woodward Canyon, L'Ecole 41, and Waterbrook. This made for a good reputation for the region as opposed to the Yakima Valley which had many more wineries in a larger area and quality was hit and miss. Sometimes more miss than hit.

Then Steve Burns arrived fresh from California to become the head of the Washington Wine Commission. Steve didn't like the Yakima Valley. What with its dry dusty climate, white-trash trailers, and barren hills, it looked more like Bakersfield to him than Napa. Walla Walla on the other hand with 20 inches average annual rainfall and forests on the Blue Mountains looks a lot like Napa. Well, as close as you can get in Eastern Washington. Steve was in love with Walla Walla.

The first year here he brought a bus tour of wine writers and other hot shots through the Yakima Valley to Walla Walla. As they passed the reservoirs that feed the irrigation canals that water the grapes in the Yakima Valley, they were aghast! Look at all those dead tree stumps exposed by the lake drained to grow grapes in the Yakima Valley. The Yakima Valley must indeed be an evil place. Steve never made that mistake again. The next year, he chartered airplanes to fly the buttheads directly to Walla Walla eliminating completely that scene of dead trees, dry lakes, and the hot dry ride through the Yakima Valley.

Steve was a product of the dot-bomb era. He said, "There is no end to the amount of high-priced wine you can sell and there is no limit to the price you can charge." I assume that he meant if it was from Walla Walla - not the Yakima Valley.

Articles (or should I say an article) began to appear in magazines and newspapers around the country. I say one article because it was the same article over and over. Just a regurgitation of the Wine Commission press releases. Californians in the industry must not have felt very threatened by the Washington wine industry which was comprised of a 1200 acre AVA, 4 hours and 30 minutes from any metropolis. Never mind there were 11,000 acres of vinifera in the Yakima Valley and lots of new plantings in the Horse Heaven Hills and Wahluke Slope. The story was Walla Walla.

More than a place to grow grapes, Walla Walla became a school of winemaking, a very popular one at that, making New-World style wines that the critics loved - high alcohol fruit bombs, dry (with some RS of course), soft integrated tannins, and boatloads of French oak. Just what Parker ordered. More than 100 wineries opened shop in Walla Walla on this good news. "We'll all get rich," they thought.

It became a standing joke in the Yakima Valley that all Steve could say was, "Walla Walla Walla Walla Walla……." Then Steve Burns up and moved back to California, so the cheerleader was gone.

Then came $4.00 gasoline. Walla Walla is 273 miles (4 hours 31 minutes) from Seattle. This really cut into the number of visitors to Walla Walla. Restaurants closed up.

Then came the new wine order. Ultra-premium wines for $20. Premium wines for $10. Good wine for $7.00 and everybody is buying high end Napa Valley Estate-bottled wines at Grocery Outlet for $5.00 ($4.00 with a 20% case discount).

Restaurant visits dropped sharply and sales of high end wines dropped even more dramatically. Wineries who based their sales on 'high-end restaurants and wine shops' found themselves without a market.

But the dream lives on (tongue in cheek) in this really funny (perhaps all too true) video produced by Gramercy Cellars in where else? Walla Walla. Enjoy!