Saturday, July 24, 2010

The Magic of Woodinville

I was reading the Summer issue of Wine Press Northwest and in the unread ads in the back, I noticed that a lot of the Walla Walla wineries now have tasting rooms in Woodinville. I guess when Steve Burns left the Wine Commission he left Walla Walla high and dry.

How magic is Woodinville? It is hard to get a handle on. I hear of wineries having $30,000 weekends every weekend and I hear of wineries having $500 weekends and wondering how they are going to pay the high-priced rent. Chateau St. Mickey's is of course the big attraction with its château and manicured grounds. I was told by an inside source (a big inside source) that this winery did over one million dollars a year in the tasting room in the early '90's - before they separated the tasting bar from the cash register. Things go downhill rather rapidly from beautiful Ste Mickey's to garage doors in industrial parks. How romantic is that? Or even the more upscale non-winery storefronts in a mini-mall - next door to Pan Gucks Wok and Chinese takeout. Does your wine smell of sesame oil or is that from next door?

I guess I am old school. I learned to love wine tasting in the Napa Valley in the early '70's. I have purchased a case of 1971 Cabernet Sauvignon from Joseph Heitz himself. Louis Martini has poured samples in my glass while sharing the experience behind the bar. Those old Italian guys were great!. No flaccid blonde broads saying, "This is our ultra-premium-hand-crafted-award-winning Cabernet." Unfortunately, I never met Robert Mondavi, but I toured his winery in 1970 when it first opened .I have had picnics at Robert Louis Stevenson State Park with fresh crab from Fisherman's Whorf, artisan bread, Marin County Cheese (Camembert to be exact), and local Napa Valley wine. I guess I just don't get the 'park your car and get shit-faced' wine tasting mentality of today. (Wine bloggers, here is your mention in order to up my hits. I know the only people who read wine blogs are wine bloggers. Please understand fully the content of this paragraph. Wine tasting is not about the wine, it is about the experience. Since mentioning the Bloggers Conference, I have had 89 visits and your average attention span is 41 seconds. Your attention span is pathetic, but on par with any twit on Twitter. How can you consider yourself a writer if you cannot take time to read? In addition, all of you were too chicken to comment. In case you don't get it, I am reaming you a new orifice.)

Now addressing the wannabe winemakers. Yes, those people who still want to get into the wine business as a 'life style.' If I were to do it over again what would I do differently? Remember, I have 25 years of experience in the business. I can't name all the wineries that have come and gone in those 25 years. Flaming supernovas that burned out fast. They listened to the Washington Wine Commission (Steve Burns), the Wine Spectator, Robert Parker, et al. They located their wineries in Seattle, Walla Walla, Prosser Flats, and the Dry Shitties - all the places that these people promote. Follow the crowd and it will follow you. Wrongo Buckwheat.

Well, I wouldn't do anything differently. I would still locate in the Rattlesnake Hills AVA near Zillah, the nearest REAL
WINE COUNTRY to Puget Sound. We are the pariah of AVA's to the Washington Wine Commission because as Paul Portteus says, "we have become successful in spite of the Wine Commission." We are two hours and fifteen minutes from Issaquah - about the same time it would take you to get to Woodinville on a clogged freeway. And, the sun is probably shining over here. It is the only AVA where you can experience the early '70's Napa Valley atmosphere where the owner pours the wine and the ambience is amazing with, yes, the grape vines that grow the wines. Duh, we have our vineyards around our wineries.

Do I want you to locate your wannabe winery here? Probably not. We already have over 20 wineries in the AVA, although some still want to designate their Bordeaux reds as vegetative Yakima Valley reds. (yes, I love weeds, green beans and asparagus - just not in my Cabernet Sauvignon.) There are 17 wineries in the Rattlesnake Hills Wine Trail Association. When it gets to 20, I will vote 'no' to all new applicants. In a weekend, you might realistically see 10 wineries. Twenty wineries in the organization still gives me a 50-50 chance of being visited. Get over 50 wineries like Wine Yakima Valley and you are so diluted you don't have a chance in hell of being visited - about one in five.

So, what are your chances of being visited in Walla Walla? Less than one in ten. (10/100 = 1/10) What are your chances of getting visited in Woodinville? About one in six, but it is hard to count the number of wineries in Woodinville (over 60) - and there are more every day. You do the math. I will go with 1 out of 2 in the Rattlesnake Hills.

I don't know why success makes me grumpy. I should really be happy, but I really hate to see people fail because of someone else's stupidity. I also hate hearing the same old story from the same old people over and over.

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

Want to Make Your Blog Popular?

Hey, it's easy. Forget about wine, because nobody reads wine blogs except wine bloggers and to my knowledge they don't actually drink wine, they just speed taste and get drunk on hard liquor at night. What if a blogger actually talked about wine, something in the way of "it smells like burnt Macaoan Oak." Actually, a wine steward said that to me before wine bloggers existed. I was really impressed. I was in Macao last year and didn't see a single oak tree but it still sounds cool. Paul G. has my permission to use it in his next review. Pardon the digression. Wine bloggers write for each other. It is a mutual admiration society. If you don't believe me, read the comments to the posts. It is a bunch of blogger bragging about who they know and telling inside jokes. Have you ever seen a comment, "jeez, thanks for the wine recommendation. I'm going down to the Zillah Food Center and pick up an $80 bottle of Chateau Walla Squared and have it with Foie Gras tonight. You know the Toppenish Safeway has it on special this week."

If you don't believe me, check this out. I particularly liked numbers 6 and 8. I think I am violating #6, but I did mention Walla Walla, so I am okay on #8. But, if you still don't believe me, read the comments. I think it was Abraham Lincoln (who, by the way, used to blog on the backs of envelopes) who said "blah, blah, blah and that blogs of the bloggers, by the bloggers, for the bloggers shall not perish from the internet!"

So, to up my hits and make Google Analytics light up, the blog was about the Walla Wall Wine Bloggers Conference and wine blogging in general. If you don't believe me, I will report my analytics next week. I'm going to have one of the hottest wine blogs on the web - just talking about blogging - not wine.

Tuesday, July 6, 2010

Wine Boogers Conference aka Wine Bloggers Conference (WBC to insiders)

Well, the big Wine Bloogers Conference is over and it looks like everyone is pretty well done congratulating each other and posting about how great their friends are. It seems to be a large mutual admiration society that gets together once a year - in the meantime, they read each other's blogs and comment. No one else would read that boring trivia.

The Rattlesnake Hills, Washington's neglected AVA, didn't get any coverage, although they visited DuBrul Vineyard which is in the AVA, but since Wine Yakima Valley was operating the tour, they didn't mention that the big wines coming from this vineyard are not representative of 'Yakima Valley' (read Prosser Flats or Sagebrush Ridge) wines. From wines labeled Yakima Valley, you should expect excellent crisp whites like Chardonnay, Riesling, and Pinot Gris as well as cool-climate Syrah and Pinot Noir. Expect vegetal character in Bordeaux reds. They picked DuBrul because it is in the Rattlesnake Hills AVA and produces great wines.

So, it was a non-event for Bonair Winery. I spent the weekend in the tasting room serving about 400 paying customers and selling few thousand dollars worth of wine. (15 cases of our Pinot Noir blend called Bung Dog Red which sells for $78 per case.)Beats the hell out of standing behind a table pouring free wine while talking to dumbasses who have never heard of you. Trust me, the Washington Wine Commission has determined long ago who is important and who is not. It is a waste of time and money for non 'in' wineries to attend any of these events be it the WBC or Taste Washington, or the Children's Auction.

Bloggers are so obscure and there are so many wines, it just isn't worth the effort. There is no chance of a payoff "The Bonair Sunset was an outstanding replacement for insipid white zin," The Booger for the Paducah Gazette. Wow, great, of course it will never be available in Paducah. Worse yet, someone could really sabotage you. "The Yakima Valley Cabernet tasted of green asparagus, under-ripe bell peppers with overtones of horse sweat," Yakity Yak self-appointed wine blogger.

The only way to get recognized is to sell wine under $10 and get shelf-space in QFC, Fred Meyer, and AG stores. Forget the "wine shops and upper-end restaurants." I don't think social media will ever have the sway print media used to have. Today's wine drinkers are smarter and know more about wine. They know if they pay over $20 they are not getting more value. Plus, there a so many wines nobody cares. Wineries need to get used to the fact that wine is a food product and winemakers are not rock stars. It is a business. How many canned bean bloggers are there? Bush's - yumm, my favorite!

Paul G. has an interesting forum going, but most of the responses are as boring as the blog writers own blogs. It's sort of a Point Counterpoint, but not as funny as SNL.

I love Chinese Glass

Every morning my wife asks me what I plan to do today. The answer is simple and always the same, "I plan on getting drunk." Ever since I was demoted from winemaker to vigneron, I don't plan my days. Work always finds me. I don't have to look for it. I actually thought I was getting a promotion until I found out 'vigneron' is a fancy French term for flunky.

This morning at 7:45 I received a call from Bill, my winemaker, that the foil dispenser was not working and he needed me, le vigneron, to hand apply the foils on 4600 bottles. Thank god for short-run days.

It was our first run with our new Chinese glass and it gave me a chance to examine the quality up close, one fu©ƙ1ng bottle at a time. I was amazed. The glass was beautiful with a nice full punt and polished finish. The light reflection on every bottle was mirror perfect. (I remember watching St. Gobain 9952 go down the line. It was like watching life in a fun house mirror.) All the corks seated perfectly and the boxes from our supplier, Saxco, actually closed perfectly. We probably saved 50% on case glue alone. Trying to seal boxes from California Glass, Saint Gobain, and Consumers takes gobs of glue -and more gobs of glue.


Doing menial jobs gives the Grumpy Winemaker a lot of time to think - probably a bad idea. I wondered about the US wine industry as our American wine was put into a Chinese glass by an Italian monoblock, followed by me placing French foil capsules on the Chinese bottles before the Australian labeler put - you won't believe this - US-printed labels on the bottles. I guess you can say we make 'world-class' wine.


We tried a Seattle printer who gave us a good price, until we bought all the dies only to find the price double the next year - thinking we would be too dumb to switch. Plus their 'rubber stamp' labels can't compete with offset. Flexo sucks. Label One in Portland still treats us well.


My son, Joseph, does catalogs for an outdoor company. All of the catalogs are printed in Asia. I wonder how much longer we will have our labels printed in the Yoonited States? $4.55 per case is a lot of money when you have to sell wine in Seattle for $9.99. Every penny counts for the wineries as bottle manufacturers are finding out the hard way. The wine industry is not a cash cow ready for milking. I think I said that before. Grumpy people tend to be repetitive.

St. Gobain will continue to make glass in Seattle as long as they cut great deals with St. Mickey's. They have pretty much said they don't want our business of 7500 cases a year. But sooner or later, even St. Mickey's will discover the quality and price of Chinese bottles - if they haven't already.

One thing was a little suspicious about the bottles. They looked a lot like St. Gobain 9432 (Mister Rogers, "Can you say 'identical'? I knew you could. I like the way you say 'identical'.") - only cheaper. If I worked for St. Gobain in Seattle, I would be looking for a new job real soon.