Thursday, October 27, 2011

.Chuck Fiola Seriously Injured in Tractor Accident

Monday night Chuck Fiola, owner of Konnowac Vineyards, was critically injured while loading a truck with grapes from his 18 acre vineyard here in the Rattlesnake Hills. I got a call Tuesday afternoon from Ashley at Flying Trout that the accident happened and that Chuck had been flown to Harborview and was in critical condition in intensive care.
Let me digress a little here. You probably haven’t heard of Chuck or Konnowac Vineyards even though it was planted in the early ‘80s in the Rattlesnake Hills and has been supplying fine grapes to wineries all over the state. The reason is the Wine Commission from their ivory towers in Seattle is only aware of four vineyards in the state. They should get off their fat salaries and see the people who pay their bills. When someone wants to do an article about vineyards in Washington, it contacts the Wine Commission and they give the same four names. Rather than do some research and find a new story, they follow the lead and we get the same old story (yawn) over and over again. Find some new material, guys.
Little is known how the accident happened, but I believe he has one of those forklift attachments on his tractor. He was loading a flatbed truck in the dark on uneven ground and the tractor tipped over on to him, crushing his pelvis.
Ashley indicated that they needed help getting the rest of the crop off for Chuck. I made a couple of calls and within two hours I had four tractors and five crews ready to pitch in. Pat Rawn, Two Mountain Winery and Sheridan Vineyards offered up a crew and a tractor, Bonair was able to spare a tractor and could probably get a crew, Roger Althoff, Tanjuli Winery offered to be a crew boss and coordinate picking, and Joe Hattrup, Elephant Mountain Vineyards offered to take care of it all. In the end, Joe did the whole thing since his vineyard is only a quarter of a mile up the road and the rest of us are several miles away. All the wineries that had contracted grapes (yes, we have grapes here in the Rattlesnake Hills this year – lots of them) were taken care of as well as Chuck’s vineyard.
I think it is a great story about how in a short amount of time, neighbors can rally to help a fellow farmer in need. Thank you to all that volunteered and a big thanks to Joe Hattrup, Elephant Mountain Vineyard for getting it done.
Chuck isn’t out of the woods by a long way. He is still in an induced coma facing more surgery, but we hope he gets better really soon.

Friday, October 21, 2011

No on 1183

 Who is for 1183? Costco Wholesale

Who is against 1183? The Wine and Spirits Wholesalers of America (WSWA) and the public employee unions.

The US government chooses sides by the old saw, “the enemy of my enemy is my friend.” That is why we armed Sadam Hussein, so he could kick the crap out of Iran. I feel the same about this battle. WSWA is definitely the enemy and so are public employee unions, but that doesn’t make Costco my friend. The consumer will only benefit from lower prices due to a smaller selection. If you shop at Costco, you know that you buy what Costco sells, not what you want.

Costco wants to control the market in wine. I’ve covered this before on the previous referendum. They want to import wine from China or wherever and sell it for a dollar a bottle – One Buck Luck I called it.

Do we really want to turn the whole industry over to a couple of big box stores? Do we all want to play, “let’s make a deal” with Costco? I’ve offer Costco some pretty good deals and they don’t even return phone calls. If the Family Wineries of Washington think they can compete in this market all I can say is “Good luck.”

The sad part of this is that the small distributors will be forced out of business. I need my distributors to sell my wine – not Costco.

There are nearly 800 wineries in Washington. If each only offered five wines to Costco, they would have to wholesale 4000 wines. They are not going to do this. They will go big and they will go cheap.

Protect our small distributors and medium-to-small wineries by voting NO on 1183. Don’t swap the state monopoly for the Costco monopoly.

Thursday, October 13, 2011

Brix Too Low? Time for a Costco Run

   We have become spoiled with high brix (percent sugar for non-winery people) in Washington State. It is so bad that a restaurant in Walla named itself 26 Brix (or was it 16% Alcohol?). Our philosophy is to make food friendly wines under 14%, so we often have to bring out the Jesus machine. What’s that you ask? Well, Jesus’ first miracle was to turn water into fine wine. It still works today, but now we call it a hose. This year is perfect for natural wines. No messing around.
Winemakers new to the industry (most of them) are freaking out over low sugars this year. I got an email from WSU last week suggesting methods of amelioration (adding sugar for non-winery people.) Blasphemy, you say. The Europeans have been doing it for years. They make great wines with low-sugar grapes. If you really want hot wine, freeze it in a tank and do a freeze distillation. If it’s alcohol you are looking for, that will do the trick.
What winemakers don’t know is that flavor and ripeness are key over raw sugar (read alcohol) power. Do a little math. 21 brix translates into 12.5% alcohol. Wines used to top out at 13% alcohol. It is only with the Parkerization of wine that people expect wine to taste alcoholic like a mixed drink made from raisins and prunes, with no acid (read flabby). I get people all the time in the tasting room, “I am looking for a big red.” Oh, you mean a highly alcoholic beverage that is overly extracted and tastes like prunes and raisins, without varietal character like Cabernet Sauvignon or Merlot. Try someplace else.
I am looking to see some exceptional wines this year – more European in nature. Fruit flavors are super this year and the pyrazines are starting to disappear here in the Rattlesnake Hills.
As for the dumb sh!t who wants a big red, gas up your SUV and pray for global warming.

Monday, October 10, 2011

The Day the Music Died or The Music Nazis Are after You.

 Do you play the radio, some CD’s, or maybe the MP3 player in your tasting room? Do you have an event with a band? Beware, the music Nazis are out to get you.
Who are the music Nazis? They are the people that collect royalties for artists and composers for copyrighted work. They are called BMI (Broadcast Music Inc.), ASCAP (American Society of Composers, Artists and Producers) and SESAC (which stand for nothing).
BMI and ASCAP are big. They control most of the music you listen to. SESAC controls R&B and gospel music – probably something you don’t play often in your tasting room, but play one song and you owe!
I’m not opposed to paying artists for their work. They deserve it. But, general licensing fees are shared among the top 200 radio plays – not the artists you are playing. So you might play the Eagles and the money goes to Lady Gaga. It is not a fair system. Radio stations keep logs and the money goes to the actual artist.
Most of you are saying you can just ignore them. Wrong! Not only do they have the power of the law (thank you Congress) on their side, they have spies and lots of attorneys. You are guaranteed to lose if you fight the Music Mafia. They make Al Capone look like a bicycle thief.
How much does the Music Mafia want from you to play the radio? It is unclear because individual deals can be negotiated, but about $2500 per year. The price of their product far exceeds the value.
How do I know all this? Last year we started to get letters from SESAC telling us we had to buy their license. We ignored it because all the CDs we were playing were ASCAP and BMI. Then BMI found out that we had live music Saturday afternoon and they wanted their cut. Well, our live music was a Russian composer and artist who played his own copyrighted music, so we didn’t owe them a dime but they continued to get quite nasty. His music is registered with BMI and he finally called them and told them to back off. He can play his own music and sell CDs at our winery if he wishes. BMI backed off. SESAC continues to send letters.
Frankly I don’t like music in the tasting room, but the ladies do so we had to find a solution. Buying three overpriced licenses was out of the question.
One option is Muzac, the people who invented elevator music for the brain-dead. Muzak takes care of all licensing hassles with your contract. Muzak’s website wasn’t really helpful in figuring out a cost and we really didn’t want to treat our customers as brain-dead wine-drinking zombies anyway.
Our solution was quite simple; SiriusXM Radio for business. All licensing is taken care of by SirusXM, so you can tell the music Nazis to chuck off. They offer a large selection of stations to suit your winery ambience including 30 talk-free commercial free Channels just for businesses. Once you buy the internet radio, the cost is $35 per month with no contract.
And people wonder why I am grumpy!