Shoots, Spurs, Canes & Suckers

Producing great wine begins in the vineyard.

In the spring the focus is on pruning the vines to enable the new growth to produce the optimal amount of fruit that the plant is able to fully ripen. As the vines come out of winter dormancy, buds and shoots appear.

With the arrival of summer the vines have flowered and the grape clusters are maturing. It is time to trim the canopy of leaves in order to optimize airflow and light exposure around the fruit. Removing some of the leaves around the grapes can deepen the grape juice color, intensify the aromas, and lower the acidity all of which are desirable.

Depending on the region and goals of the grape grower, the berry clusters may be thinned. This will reduce yield with the intent to improve the quality of the remaining clusters.

If you are interested in learning more about vineyard care and receiving hands-on training, Washington State University is offering summer and fall vineyard management workshops. The workshops will be conducted in Bow, WA by Gary Moulton an expert viticulturist and former director of the  WSU Research Station in Mount Vernon, WA.

Each workshop costs $40. Click here to learn more and register.

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Picpoul Anyone?

One to two times a month I have the opportunity to be a brand ambassador and represent global wine brands or wine regions by hosting wine tastings in various off-premise wine stores. It provides an opportunity to give customers a chance to sample wines they might not otherwise try and to share with them the story behind the wine and the region where it was produced. It also provides a great opportunity for me to learn from the people I meet. They share with me their taste preferences, wine knowledge, and how wine fits into their lifestyle.

This month, I am participating as a brand ambassador for the L’Aventure Languedoc. This is a month long series of events happening in the Seattle area. The aim is to help people discover the AOP (which has recently replaced AOC) wines from Languedoc-Roussillon, the largest wine growing region in France and with more acres planted than all of California.

Historically, the wines from this region were typically associated with mass market table wines. However, since the 1990’s when the first AOPs from the region emerged, there has been a shift to producing high quality wines at reasonable prices.

LRM_france_languedoc_picpouldepinetOne of the wines that I poured this weekend was a 2014  Picpoul from Gerard Bertrand. Picpoul (Pick-pull) originates from the Languedoc. This relatively unknown varietal in the U.S. is a perfect summer sipper. I consciously avoid wine using the typical fruit and spice adjectives, but I will say that I like how it has a nice balance between fruit and acid and delivers a lot of value in the under $10 price point.

An interesting observation about the tasting I hosted was the diversity of opinions about the wine among those who enjoyed it (which was most of the tasters). About half of the people tasting liked it because it was crisp and dry but floral. The other half liked it because it was not too dry and had some nice fruitiness to it. I attribute this to the balance of the wine and how everyone’s taste buds react a little differently.

I think this is characteristic of not just the Bertrand offering but of the varietal in particular. You might need to look hard on your local wine store’s shelves to find it but it worth the search. Or better yet, visit one of these wine shops or restaurants in June and discover Picpoul and other high quality affordable wines from the fastest growing region for wine imports from France. For more info on the grape, region,  and producers, visit the official site of Picpoul de Pinet.

P.S. One Washington producer of Picpoul that I plan to try is Syncline. Only 140 cases produced and little more expensive the ones I’ve seen from France, but I’d like to see what our local wineries are doing with this interesting grape.

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A whine not a wine

I follow multiple news feeds on the world of wine. I’m always on the lookout for interesting research, market statistics and trends, and intriguing opportunities. So when I saw a headline on Decanter.com about a free online wine course offered by the University of Burgundy, I clicked immediately on the link to check it out. So far so good. Ready for the whine? How could a such a well regarded publication like Decanter, post a news article about a class that begins in less than two weeks and not include a link or information on how to sign up for the class? I’m incredulous. I tried to compensate for this faux pas by googling and googling so I could connect others to this class, but I came up empty-handed. I’m not sure whether the University of Burgundy released the information prematurely or Decanter ran an incomplete story. It doesn’t matter. In terms of connecting with their target audience it’s a miss in my book. I contacted the University of Burgundy & Decanter asking for more details. Stay tuned…

5/12/15 Update: The University of Burgundy responded to my email. Here is the link for the class. The class is taught in English and French but the registration page is in French:

Click here for a Google translated registration page.

Hope to see you in class!

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What Kind of Winer Are You?

As a marketer, I love grouping potential customers into groups of people with similar needs, characteristics and behaviors (a.k.a target market segments). As a consumer, I am less enthralled but nevertheless intrigued when a market researcher has lumped me into a bucket with other allegedly like-minded consumers. Maybe it’s because I like to think of myself as being unique and not part of some large group of people with similar characteristics who think and behave just like me.

Marketers bring these buckets of data representing consumers to life by creating a profile or persona that depicts a broad group as a composite. Typically the persona is given a name and will even have a fictitious photo associated with its profile. I have used personas at the software company I work for. I was intrigued to learn about the personas used in the wine industry and wanted to share what I learned.

There are approximately 90 million wine drinkers in the United States. The purpose of segmentation is to help a wine producer identify an attractive addressable markets to focus on. Multiple research projects have been done to try to categorize wine drinkers.  Wine Intelligence has come up with the following categories:Wine Intelligence Personas

  • Experience Explorers
  • Millennial Treaters
  • Premium Brand Suburbans
  • Bargain Hunters
  • Kitchen Casuals
  • Senior Sippers

I love these names but I have to say they also make me chuckle when I think I about which ‘bucket’ I fit in. Plus, I’m not sure some of my family members would appreciate knowing that they’ve been labeled a Senior Sipper. Each of these personas has a detailed profile associated with it. Here are a few profile summaries:

Premium Brand Suburbans“Frequent brand-savvy wine drinkers who view wine as an enjoyable treat. Three out of four of this price conscious group drink wine several times a week and are proverbial middle Americans with no strong biases in terms of age, gender, income, or region of residence. California wines dominated the repertoire here, with Italy the second choice.”

Millennial Treaters“Younger, high spending wine loving consumers with ‘conservative’ views of wine and growing in their knowledge. They are confident drinkers who like to think about what they buy – with a focus on grape varietals – are younger, relatively wealthy and more likely to be found in East Coast cities.”

Experienced Explorers“High spending, high involved consumers who are both confident and adventurous with their wine choices. Most drink wine at least twice a week, typically dwell in suburbs with professional qualifications and small families; most earn $100,000+ a year.”

Senior Sippers“Older less frequent and low spending wine drinkers with a limited interest in wine.”

As you can see from the chart above, Premium Brand Suburbans are the largest segment, drink the most wine, and spend the most money on wine. While from a demographic perspective, Baby Boomers spend the most money on wine today, there is a growing concern that as this group ages, they will be become Senior Sippers.  The group that makes many marketers fingers get itchy is the Millennial Treaters. Only 9% of the market, but they account for 22% of the spending. And what really excites the marketer is that there are 70 million millennials which means there is significant growth potential and anticipation that the Millennial Treaters of today will become the Experienced Explorers and Premium Brand Suburbans of tomorrow. Time will tell.

This is just one example of wine market segmentation. The example profiles are only summaries of each persona. Typically a persona would also include more behavioral and psychographic detail as well. This info might be included in the full report from Wine Intelligence, which I did not have access to.

If you are a wine marketer and not using personas to identify and deepen your  understanding of your target market, I encourage you to start. If you are a wine drinker, what kind of winer are you?

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Everyday is Drink Something Day

I received an email this morning informing me that today is International Sauvignon Blanc Day. I thought to myself, “Wow, that’s cool. I wonder how a wine varietal earns an official day of celebration, who is given responsibility for picking the day, and what is the significance of April 24th as the chosen day?”  – Yes, it was a long thought but it went by much faster in my head than reading it here.

I unsuccessfully searched for an international trade group, society or professional organization dedicated to Sauvignon Blanc. What I ultimately learned is that the day was declared by St. Supery Winery as a social media wine tasting event six years ago. But why April 24th? Was that the only day on the calendar open for a wine celebration day? Was it because the 24th is also National Pig in a Blanket Day and that seemed like a perfect food and wine pairing? Did they consider waiting a day and share April 25th with National Zucchini Bread Day, which might make for a better pairing?

April 24th is also National Arbor Day. Was there a tie-in there? Maybe participating wineries would plant a tree for every case of Sauvignon Blanc sold. I didn’t know the answer but I couldn’t let it rest.

I decided to dig deeper and inadvertently opened the Social Media Wine Celebration Pandora’s box. Turns out the calendar is full of national and international “Drink Something” days. Here is a sampling of just the wine specific days of celebration to supplement the traditional days of celebration (if only we these would be declared official holidays and not just days of celebration):

  • February 18National Drink Wine Day. Origin unknown, but 48K search results has to be taken seriously.
  • Last Saturday in February – Open That Bottle Night (OTBN). A day proclaimed by the former Wall Street Journal wine columnists to open that bottle you’ve been saving for a special occasion but haven’t ever gotten around to opening
  • April 17World Malbec Day .Organized by the Wines of Argentina.
  • May 9National Moscato Day. “Unofficial” (good to know) holiday created by Gallo Family Vineyards.
  • May 21 (or 22 or 23 depending on the winery) – National Chardonnay Day. Origin unknown, but apparently a consensus could not be reached on the official day.
  • June 12National Verdejo Day – Organized by the Wines of Rueda.
  • June 18 to 20Celebrate Walla Walla Valley Wine. I observe this day regularly but if you’re looking for a 3 day party to celebrate Walla Walla wines, this might be the event for you.
  • August 1International Albarino Day. Declared by the Tempranillo Advocates Producers and Amigos Society (TAPAS). Not sure why the Tempranillo group is responsible for an Albarino celebration, but I’m not complaining.
  • September 18Grenache/Garnacha Day. Organized by the Wines of Garnacha
  • November 12International Tempranillo Day. Another TAPAS driven event.
  • November 24Carmenere Day. Organized by Wines of Chile [note: date is 2014 event. 2015 not listed.]

I intentionally omitted Cab Sauv and Merlot due to research fatigue.

Sadly, I couldn’t find official celebration days for many of my favorite varietals: Cab Franc, Petit Verdot, Roussanne, Marsanne, Syrah and Pinot Noir. I may have to take the lead and declare these days. Do I hear a second for November 4 as National Petit Verdot Day?

Enough for today. I guess it’s time to have a glass of Sauvignon Blanc.

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The Wine Country of Whidbey Island

Spoiled Dog Winery

Spoiled Dog Winery

I feel fortunate to call Whidbey Island my home for many reasons. There are miles of pristine beaches to explore. The island has a vibrant art and music scene. There is a bounty of locally grown fruits and vegetables available at our farmer’s markets and roadside stands. We have local bread, cheese and sausage makers. But most of all and arguably the least known reason is our wine country. Whidbey is home to six wineries and tasting rooms all located within a short driving distance from each other.

While wineries that have their own vineyards is not that unusual; three wineries: Spoiled Dog Winery, Whidbey Island Winery, and Comforts of Whidbey produce estate grown wines that are not commonly found anywhere else in Washington. Spoiled Dog is the only winery on Whidbey and one of only a handful of wineries in Washington producing estate grown Pinot Noir.

Whidbey Island Winery

Whidbey Island Winery

Whidbey Island Winery and Comforts produce estate grown wines from two lesser known German varietals: Siegerrebe and Madeleine Angevine. Siegerebbe is an aromatic, off-dry wine that is relatively low in alcohol. Madeleine Angevine is also aromatic but is a little crisper, drier and acidic than Siegerebbe. Both grapes thrive in the marine climate of the Puget Sound AVA and are prefect complements to crab, mussels and oysters which are bountiful on the island.

These three wineries should be enough of a reason to make you want to hop on the ferry in Mukilteo and take the short 20 minute ride to Whidbey. But maybe you’re yearning for a more extensive wine experience. Well then a visit to Holmes Harbor Cellars, and the tasting rooms of Blooms Winery and Ott & Murphy should satiate your tastebuds. All three produce a variety of red and white wines sourced from well-known vineyards in Eastern Washington.

Are you looking for an alternative to the weekend crowds at the urban tasting rooms of Woodinville?  Do you prefer a relaxed wine experience in a scenic rural environment that doesn’t requires driving 3-5 hours from Seattle to the Yakima Valley or Walla Walla? Then the wineries of Whidbey Island’s wine country are just the ticket for you.

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Hello World

As a child, I would get excited every spring when my dad told me it was time to start preparing our vegetable garden. What thrilled me most was starting tomato plants from seeds. My awe began the moment I soaked the compressed peat pellets in water and watched them expand into mini pots of soil encased in a plastic mesh. It was magical. My sense of awe quickly transformed into pure delight as I gently pushed a few beefsteak tomato seeds into each pod.

For the next 1-2 weeks, I would check the pods several times a day in anticipation of the first signs of life, when a seedling would punch through the soil. My enthusiasm would wane slightly as the seedlings turned into a mature plants. then one day, small yellow flowers would appear out of nowhere on the branches and the excitement would return. This was also the signal it was time to move the plants to the vegetable garden in our backyard. Once school was out for summer, riding my Schwinn Stingray, playing baseball, and making mischief  with my friends took priority over watching the small green tomatoes mature into bright red softball size tomatoes.

The sense of awe and sensory delight reappeared when it was time to pick those first ripe tomatoes. I’d eat them like apples picked right off the vine. When the bounty we picked exceeded how much we could consume and share with neighbors, I’d watch my mom transform the fruits of my green thumb into spaghetti sauce and then dry the seeds for next year’s sprouting.

As an adult, I experience a similar sense of delight and awe when I think about grapes and the journey they take from vine to wine. While I do not have my own vineyard (at least not yet) I spend a lot of time thinking, reading, and then doing more thinking about the business of wine. I spend almost as much time drinking wine. Whether its a visit to a winery, tasting at a local store, or taking a chance on the latest flash website deal; I like to consume wine. I can spend hours browsing the shelves of my favorite wine shops, reading the shelf talkers, and back labels. Looking for something distinctive to catch my eye and bring home to share with family and friends.

Which leads me here to my first post. As my journey through the world of wine continues I wanted to document my experiences and share them with others who want to join me on my travels through the world of wine.

Hello world. I’m looking forward to meeting you.

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