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Finishing School for Wine Snobs

Yoga_winecopyAs a kid I grew up in a house where Stroh’s was always on hand, there was some scotch in the liquor cabinet and my Mom had the occasional Bartles & Jaymes on hand.

That is to say, I grew up completely naive that wine was anything other then the Cold Duck in my Grandma’s fridge next to the Mountain Dew’s.

When I graduated from college, having been in a Midwestern middle-class kind of sensory deprivation I decided that I needed to figure out two things if I wanted my ambition to meet a kind reality—learn how to golf and learn about wine.

My golf game stinks, and still stinks some 10 years later.

But, wine, on the other hand, that was something I could get better at.  If only they had some classes in school to help set you on the right path ... correct the error of my parents way ...

CIO Magazine has an article on just such a place. 

Knowing which wine to order at a corporate dinner is one skill that canhelp a CIO distinguish himself as a businessperson and save him fromsocial embarrassment. "When you’re asked to smell the cork, you need tobe able to do that without looking like a geek," says Jeff Connery, awine lover and CIO of two Canadian banks: Envision Financial inLangley, British Columbia, and First Calgary Savings in Calgary. NotesConnery, "CIOs are not just computer people anymore. They are dealingwith boards, other executives and clients. Knowing about wine roundsout one’s business character."

But, before I go anything further, let me note that I did a Google search to see if anybody else was running a story based on this press release and found none.  If you are a P.R. professional are you chagrined that the only magazine that picks up your release is the email newsletter for CIO magazine?  Yeah, I would be.

And, if you’re of Executive timber and on the Board of a Bank and you cannot small talk your way out of a wine conversation with another blowhard, may God be with you.

I digress, the University of California, Irvine has just announced new continuing education course credits for the busy executive that wants to use wine as a business tool.  Classes include:

Wine Basics 101
You have the Wine List, Now What?
Interactive Blind Wine Tasting:  Team Building
Entertaining your Multi-cultural client:  Wine as a Business Tool
CEO/Executive Round table
Developing Your Home Wine Cellar

This was really funny to me, and reeks of Prof’s that have been holed up doing too much research to try and publish an article to put on their C.V. for that year on the way to tenure after which they can be really mean to a freshman that actually thought his education was going to happen in the classroom.

Before I get too cynical, check out the site and see if their other course offerings are of interest, what with BOTH connoisseurship AND yoga being offered ...


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Reverse Cowgirl Meets Robert Parker

SamsonFiling under "Truth is Stranger then Fiction:"

The New York Times reports today that porn star Savana Samson is releasing a wine called Sogno Uno.

Samson is a Vivid Girl, the Major Leagues of the porn industry and is looking at her foray as a vintner as a career move for after her porn career dies down.

This is kind of like the NFL player that auditions on air when his team is eliminated from the playoffs and he’s got one more year on his contract ... kind of like that, but better.

But, here’s the kicker ... Robert Parker (whose reviews Good Grape institutionally ignores unless it makes for a good blog post) gave her wine a rating of 90 - 91.

This effectively means that besides the novelty factor, Parker’s score along will send droves of slobbering men to snatch up the initial 400 case or so bottling.   

In an interview with the New York Times by telephone, Parker said without irony "It was really opulent and luscious and it had a personality."

Mrs. Samson (yes, she’s married) had this to say:  "This wine will make you think"


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No “Burnt Ember” or “Dusty Leather”

Logojellybelly My wife is a huge Harry Potter fan and bought one of Jelly’s Belly’s Harry Potter gift sets at a Border’s when one of the recent books came out.  I was fascinated and disgusted at the flavors that were included ... ear eax, bacon, booger ...  and, just in case you think it might be a ruse and the Jelly Bean’s actually taste like artificially flavored Tropical Punch, no so fast.  They actually taste uncannily what your mind’s eye would have the flavor taste like.  I say mind’s eye because nobody is going to cop to knowing what a booger tastes like.

I did taste the vomit and sure enough, it was so gross, I had to spit it out after two chews.  Think of the smell in the hallway in grade school with the institutional kitty litter soaking up the mess.

That notwithstanding, Wine X Magazine, in a moment of inspiration has created the Jelly Bean Wine Bar Kit

I love this idea.  And, the flavors are true enough to life that I think it really could be a tool for education.  The Wine Aroma Wheel was created in 1990 by Ann C. Noble—a professor at UC Davis, if I’m not mistaken.

In essence, this is a tool to enhance your wine tasting enjoyment by refining your ability to uncover the nuance in wine aroma’s—we smell more then we actually taste with our olfactory glands really being the key to our taste buds.

Since then, scores of people have done imitations and close approximations to this thinking.  Then Joshua Wesson created a new categorization for wine at his Best Cellars and that similarly is being widely copied in an adaptive sense.

This is all good for wine and wine education, but the Wine bar kit is so genius in its simplicity.

Really, all you have to do is find a tasting note of a wine that you have on hand, taste the Jelly bean and sniff the wine—and that’s if you want to get that complicated.  You could really just refine this palate technique by just eating the candy.

I ordered a couple to give it a try—picking of the Chardonnay, the Zinfandel and the Deloach Pinot Noir.

There’s no vomit, but in the Deloach (a sponsor) Pinot Noir, there is pepper, cappuccino, Dr. Pepper and a pinch of dirt.

Simply put, this would be a crowd-pleaser of a game at your next soiree and is really a novel "A Ha" kind of idea.

Now, if only, I could be so lavish in praise for Wine X the magazine—the simple fact is, they are in a sweet spot for coverage of wine to a young audience, but they can’t publish their damn magazine.  I subscribed for an annual subscription about 14 months ago and have only received two copies.  Now, I see they are pimpin’ 8 issues a year in a promotion.  The magazine is painfully pretentious in its unpretentiousness, but I hold out hope that they’ll get it figured out what with 70 million Gen. Y folks coming of age.  And, they also tend to include recipes from the Surreal Gourmet, who had a Food Network or HGTV show for a cup of coffee.   That guy is annoying, but, thankfully, in a magazine format you can turn the page. 

Buy and try the Wine Bar kit, you’ll appreciate the fun factor.


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Wine in Restaurants—Dante’s 8th Circle

FreakonomicsWine at retail is usually marked-up 30-50%.  In some cases where significant buying leverage can be had, or the retailer is a giant (like Sam’s Club) the mark-up is lower and the consumer can find a bargain. 

Wine On-Premise (at a restaurant or a bar) is usually marked up 300%  To use a familiar frame of reference—furniture is also usually marked up 300%.  Why this is, I’m not sure.  But, nonetheless, a good gauge for wine at a restaurant is to see how much it costs per glass because 8 times out of 10 the cost of a glass of wine for you will equal the buying cost of the bottle for the restaurant.

So, last night while having a quartino of Pinot Noir for $11.50 (three servings from a bottle) instead of 4 for a glass, I wanted to do some quick math and look at a topic near and dear to my heart, restaurant prices for wine.

When I came home I checked the retail price of the bottle for which I just paid $11.50 for a quartino and it was selling for $45 a bottle.  It was selling for $9.50 a glass.

Come to find out it can be found online from $16.99 to $19.99 a bottle.  This isn’t bad.  It means that by restaurant standards, I wasn’t getting completely robbed. 

Let’s assume that their buying price for the wine was $12.00 a bottle at wholesale cost—this maps loosely to a $18 retail price.  By virtue of this, I paid for the bottle (save for .50 cents), but the larger deal was had if you bought the bottle that under the 300% mark-up model would have made the bottle $48, and not the relative bargain it was at $45.  Or, by the glass at $9.50 which was under the wholesale cost.

Now, I’m being relatively generous in my description of all of this because at the end of the day I really think this is all bullshit.  Wine in restaurants is ripe for a Freakonomics treatment whereby the fallacy of this pricing model ceases to stop making any sense.

To wit, instead of buying a bottle for $45, my wife and I each bought a quartino—her’s as $10.50, mine was $11.50 and then I subsequently bought another glass of a different wine for $9.00.  So, if you assume that a bottle is 4 glasses and a quartino is 1.5 glasses, then we consumed a bottle of wine.  But, the total cost for that pieced out bottle of wine was $31 dollars.

And, what I really wanted to do was have a bottle that we both could enjoy ... but there’s a buying barrier to overly expensive wine. 

Now, the unexplored topic here is for people that aren’t nearly as into wine as I am—of which there are a great deal.  I would like for a restaurant to drop prices to normal mark-up levels for a month.
Wine ranconteur and brainchild behind Trader Joe’s has suggested the same in a Wine Business Monthly article:

Franziawonders why other wineries don’t follow his lead and introducelower-cost wines, and he said even wine patriarch (and relative) Ernest Gallo complained that he’s selling wines too cheaply. "They’re afraid consumers will get used to the prices," said Franzia.

Franziais leading a virtual crusade for less expensive wines. Few restaurantsfeature his wines, and he fumes that they won’t sell wines at lowmarkups. "If they sold wine cheaper, everyone’s food would tastebetter," he pointed out. "Until they do, America is never going to be awine-drinking nation."

He doesn’t add that he’d be a likely beneficiary if the restaurants more sold inexpensive wine.

Franziachallenges restaurants to sell decent wines at $10 per bottle, and hasbeen seeking a major restaurant chain to partner with his company muchas Trader Joe’s did at retail. "The Charles Shaw project made TraderJoe’s a destination retailer for wine; a restaurant chain should beable to do the same," he said

Sofar, however, Franzia has been unsuccessful in signing up a majorrestaurant chain for his wines, a process Gallo and some otherproducers have done well.

Healso seems mystified that more groceries don’t emulate Trader Joe’s."How can any major grocery chain not have a wine that competes with TwoBuck Chuck?," he asked.

I am hard pressed to believe that at the end of the month, with some suggestive marketing wrapped around the pricing action that a restaurant wouldn’t see equal to or significantly greater wine sales, excellent word of mouth and longer-term increased sales.

Econ 101 and market economics whereby we allocate our resources in the most efficient means possible tells me this has to be the case. 

But, alas, I suspect that the coming wine boom with Generation Y will soon change these practices.  Our younger brethern haven’t gotten to the point where they enjoy a nice dinner over the club, but when they do you’re either going to see a hasty increase in corkage programs or a steady retreat in on-premise pricing.  Let’s hope it’s actually both. 


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Show business & The Wine Industry

SnowdogsI’ve been spending a lot of time thinking about the wine buying process. How and why we purchase wine, the influence of labels, merchandising and critics.

Because so much wine (virtually all of it) is decided upon at the point of purchase or by somebody else’s subjective opinion and/or sales copy, you would think that merchandising would be a lot stronger at retail.  It’s not.  Trader Joe’s does about the best job that I’ve seen and are rewarded for it based on the amount of wine that flies off the shelf there. 

But, the other phenomena is the voice of the critic.

The movie business is very similar to wine on a lot of levels. 

There’s an over-abdundance of movies coming to market, and by consequence there’s a lot of marketing spent on movies to maximize an opening day weekend—trailers, pre-screenings, etc all contribute to the relative success or failure of a movie.

How many of us read reviews in the entertainment section of the newspaper before deciding which of the three new movies that are coming out this weekend are going to earn our $9? Based on the review of one or more of the movies, you can go through a process of elimination and decide on a movie.

Similar to this, when buying a bottle at the store, you are faced with a lot of choices, and generally you are shopping within a defined price category.  Usually, consumers go in with a price pre-disposition—i.e. you won’t buy a $25 bottle if you have $12.99 in your head.  You will buy two $12.99 bottles though (interesting the rationalizations we make for ourself). 

So, at the store you are looking for a red wine in the $12.99 category that appeals to you—maybe its a label, some familiarity with the winery, a tasting note that resonates with you or a rating.  Yes, a rating.  "Look this has notes of cherry a hint of oak and is rated 89 by Robert Parker"  ...or
Wine Enthusiast or a similar magazine or rating venue. 

All things considered equal, we don’t normally trust our own taste, so you’re more likely to buy the wine that was reviewed then if there was nothing to aid in the purchase decision. 

You get the bottle home and it’s totally not a wine you enjoy.  You like a subtle Pinot Noir, but this is a very bold Zinfandel.  But, somehow it must be good because somebody else liked it and gave it an 89.

The same can be said for movies.  We may have passed on a great movie in order to see the one that Ebert gave a thumbs up to, or vice versa.  Maybe the movies a dog, or thematically isn’t something that’s up your alley, but, again, it must be okay because a reviewer said it was good. 

At the end of the day, I think we’d all be a little bit better off if we spent time working on what makes us unique and not what makes us uniquely consumers. 

On a separate note, check out Mark Cuban’s Blog (Blog Mavrick) for a post on how he is re-inventing the movie business.  See is there isn’t some parallel to the movie business and the wine industry—two areas again where there is too much product for consumers to consume without great fragmentation. 


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