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Paying it Forward Wine Style

Doing good and capitalism are no longer two thoughts separate and conceptually “Church” and “State.” Increasingly, profits and giving back are becoming intertwined.

And, social entrepreneurism is a concept that has gotten a fair amount of attention over the last couple of years—simply, it’s the concept that “non-profit” is something of a misnomer and that profitability can come out a business designed to solve or aid social issues.

Coupled with social entrepreneurism is the notion of sustainable or green business.  Frequently, these two issues are inter-related as different cuts of the same cloth.

The current issue of Inc. Magazine has a cover story on “50 Cutting Edge Companies” in the story called, “The Eco Advantage.  Do Good.  Get Rich.”

The story centers on 50 companies that are living by an ethos of sustainability in their business practices.

Thankfully, there’s an inclusion of a winery.  Wineries—both in their business practices of philanthropy and in their vineyards and operations have long been very sensitive to nature and their surrounding communities.  Unfortunately, those stories don’t always make as good of copy as “Bob the textile manufacturer that sees the light, stops abusing the ground and his rural help.”

The magazine features Frog’s Leap Winery in Rutherford saying (excerpted):

Frog’s Leap was started in 1984 and in 1988 became the first Napa winemaker to have its grapes certified as organic. Today, Frog’s Leap produces 60,000 cases of wine a year, all from grapes that are grown organically.  Perhaps more notably, they are grown with water-saving dry farming methods.

…But, (Founder John) Williams is reluctant to brag, and not only because he’s modest.  “Up to this point, there’s been no advantage to marketing your wine as organic,” he says. 

The winery has erected solar panels to meet the bulk of its power needs, uses geothermal energy to cool and heat its buildings, and built its new visitor center and headquarters to exacting green building standards. 

A couple of other wineries that have been in the news lately that are involved philanthropically include:

Humanitas Winery.  Featured in last Friday’s offering, this winery was founded by Judd Wallenbrock in 2002.  Humanitas puts an interesting twist on charitable giving by giving the profits of the wine sales to the local communities in the communities in which they are sold.  No check to the national chapter of Red Cross.

At Humanitas, we don’t give the funds to the national headquarters of these charities.  Rather, we give to the regional chapters in the communities where the wine was sold.  In this way, by enjoying Humanitas, you are giving back to your own community!

But Humanitas is first and foremost about the wines.  We are wine people—pure & simple.  Our goal is to make outstanding wines and sell them affordably.  And we also want to ‘do something good’ for the world.  We married these two passions and Humanitas was born.

Clos LaChance Winery in San Martin is releasing their “Juan Fernandez Firecrown” red, the first in a series of wines named for threatened hummingbird species.  A portion of the wine’s sales proceeds will go to the Hummingbird Society.

Dave Phinney, owner of the Orin Swift label in Napa, is donating all of the proceeds from his Sauvignon Blanc to the consortium called Puertas Abiertas (Open Doors), which provides medical care to Napa’s farm workers and their families.

And, finally, Lookout Ridge, based in Kenwood donates wheelchairs to those that need it.  Their site says:

If you order a case or more, we will donate a wheelchair in your name to a needy individual. Over 100 million children, teens and adults worldwide are in need of a wheelchair but cannot afford one. Gordon and Kari Holmes, the owners of Lookout Ridge Winery, have a deep, heartfelt connection to The Wheelchair Foundation, a nonprofit organization that seeks to bring new independence to those deprived of mobility by war, disease, accident, natural disaster or old age.

Understand, these are not isolated incidents of wineries and the wine industry doing good—there are numerous others like Whitmore Wines in addition to the folks mentioned above. 

With Halloween just about past and the holiday season ready to kick into high gear, two general trends come together—wine drinking begins its annual consumption crescendo at the same time that charitable giving does as well.  I think it’s always a good time to raise a glass of good cheer and good wishes for the folks that make it a priority to give back to those (or a cause) that need it on a daily and weekly basis.


The Winery and the Bon Vivant

Food & Wine magazine has a really funny take on wine sales and salesmanship in the October issue. 

Lettie Teague, the F&W monthly wine columnist, recounts her failed attempt at wine sales some years ago and decides that revisiting the grinding gearbox known as commission sales was an interesting idea—as a journalist on a “ride along.”

Undoubtedly, being an on the street wine salesman is tough work.  Not as many people as you would think know that the life of a salesperson, while seemingly glamorous with travel and entertaining, is tough work filled with customers plying a daily dose of lack of respect, rejection, or worse. 

Those unsavory aspects of the sales life make the Food & Wine article even more interesting for its portrayal of a “Day in the Life …”

In most sales disciplines methodologies have taken grip that guide the salesperson through the sale process picking up cues from the buyer, navigating a maze of company politics, competition, budget issues and a myriad of other items to come out of the other side with a “solution sale.”

While the wine industry may make use of a key account methodology or two, most of the art of the sale is the verbal jousting/quick on your feet/sound bite laden/hand-to-hand combat/get the order right now kind of sale that gives immediate satisfaction or defeat—kind of like pharmaceutical sales without donuts for the doctors. 

This article captures that industry flavor perfectly.  And, it captures the “sound bite” aspect of the business, as well.

This notion, in particular, was reinforced to me last week when I went to a non-profit tasting function that benefited a charity, but was run by a wholesaler.  The fact that this charity tasting might as well have been an inventory clearance sale is an entirely different issue that I won’t address here.  The tasting personnel at the event were a mix of staff, winery representatives and distributor sales people.

The interesting thing to point out about this is the way we were addressed as “theoretical” customers.  Winery representatives, wearing casual clothes and using their tasting room experience undoubtedly, always asked us, as we eyed the selection, “What do you like to drink” as a segue into a conversation. Or, they framed us into parameters to take us through a couple of different wines from lightest to heaviest and whites to red.

Oddly, though, in stark contrast to the soft glove approach of the winery reps. were the distributor sales people—they stoically stood there, pressed shirts and ties until I eyed a wine and asked to taste it before they launched into their canned patter about the wine—an elevator pitch of information given not the least bit conversationally and not to be interrupted, lest flow and thought process be broken.

The Food & Wine article similarly captures this trademark of the business.

Overall, I find the dichotomy of approaches within the same supply chain to be interesting—the difference between the way a winery works with a consumer versus a distributor rep. and a retailer.

Everybody in that supply chain—the winery, the distributor and the retailer is in sales, but the approaches are ALL different.

When I commented to a “patter” guy that he must be in sales because he had the pitch down cold, he said to me:

“Acutally, I consider myself a Bon vivant.”

Go figure.


The #1 Beer in America Comes from a Winery?

You might think of wine country, as, well, the domain of just wine.

According to the current issue of Men’s Journal magazine, two of the top four beers in America are made in California locales more known for their vino.

And, in fact, the #1 beer in America—yup, it’s made by a winery.  Or to be crystal clear, I should say it’s made by folks whose stock-in-trade is wine.

Go figure.

The #4 best beer in America, the Russian River Temptation Ale, made by the Russian River Ale Company was founded by Korbel Champagne Cellars in 1997.

Not to be outdone, the #1 brew in America, The Firestone Walker Pale Ale, is made by the family behind Firestone Family Estates—a portfolio of business units that encompasses Firestone Vineyard, the aforementioned craft brewer, Curtis Winery, and Prosperity Wines.

The Firestone Pale Ale wins even if Men’s Journal says of this Central
Coast winery and brewer, “You may recognize the name here, either from the Napa Valley winery …”

Not quite Napa, fellas. Many people would say that comparing the Central Coast to Napa is akin to saying a Budweiser is the same as a Guinness. But, I quibble …

This whole marriage of craft brewing and wine is interesting. It makes sense—artisan and boutique is translatable … There does exist a slight marriage of the two quaffable offerings, though they are connected by Barley and not vinifera grapes. Barley wine is frequently finished with a cork and in a 750 ml bottle. According to Wikipedia:

It typically reaches an alcohol strength of 8 to 12% by volume and is brewed from specific gravities as high as 1.120. It is called a barleywine because it can be as strong as wine; but since it is made from grain rather than fruit it is in fact a beer. In the United States barleywines are required for this reason to be called “barley wine-style ales.” This is taken by some to imply that they are not truly barleywines; in fact it only means that they, like any barleywines, are not truly wines.

Most wine retailers in my neck of the woods have a pretty good selection of micro-brews, too. I’ll pop over and look for the Firestone Pale Ale next time I’m talking myself out of something too expensive.

And, for a timely review of Curtis Wines, a part of the Firestone family portfolio, check out Tim’s review at Winecast from Saturday, September 16th.


Are You Twisted? Hell, yeah!

My wife and I are prone to crushes and some consumer/pop culture flights of fancy.

My wife’s girly crush’s are more around fetishizing movies and books into complete and absolute fandom (Harry Potter, Lord of the Rings and Walk the Line/Johnny Cash come to mind) and mine are more around lifestyle things i.e. food and wine-related ideas and concepts, et al.

I have a current crush on the consumer micro-crush company CrushPad, and I used to have one on Inertia Beverage Group—though, I have moved my crush from admirer to full-on permanent relationship status and taken a job with them.

And, I have a full-on man-crush for Twisted Oak winery in Murphys, California. Twisted Oak, in a combined convergence of crushes, should be working with Inertia and our Rethink Engine, but I’ll leave that bit of sales stuff for another day.

If I were going to start a winery, I would want it to be fun like it seems like these guys are having.

Twisted Oak has a joie de vivre and an Espirit de Corp that is obvious and infectious. They also have a wine blog called El Bloggo Toricido (Spanish for: The Twisted Blog) which is one of, if not the most engaging winery-related blogs on the Internet. No serious, dry stuff, either. It’s all about turning the volume up to 11, to borrow from The Spinal Tap—which, I think, these guys might appreciate.

I recently received some review wines from the fellas at Twisted Oak—Jeff and Scott.

You see, a couple of months back I mentioned another winery that I visited while in Paso and Jeff wrote a comment on my site saying he thought his and the other winery were something of kindred spirits. This coincided with an email from said winery in Paso and their pr representation asking me to write (more) about them.

I thought the Paso wineries were okay: okay, but nothing exceptional—maybe even priced a touch high relative to quality. At the tasting room they had a fee and a tasting limit of five wines, so I shot a note back to the pr guy asking for a sample. In this case, a sample of their Tempranillo because I thought it might be interesting to do a story about the kindred spirit wineries and their respective Tempranillo’s and I didn’t get an opportunity to taste their Tempranillo while there in-person.

Twisted Oak came through ... within the same day of my email, I got a note back from Scott and shortly thereafter two bottles of Tempranillo showed up on my doorstep.

I’m still waiting for a reply from the other guy.

Just the same, it’s actually better that way because it allows me to focus on the Twisted Oak Tempranillo which is a well-crafted wine.

Besides the obvious fun that Twisted Oak has, it was something of a small surprise to get a rubber chicken in the mail. How can you not crack a smile at the obvious absurdity of a rubber chicken, and really, a small stroke of marketing savvy, because it’s the kind of tchotchke that doesn’t allow you to throw it away, either. But the real genius here is the way Twisted Oak team couples wine geekdom with a kind-of casual chic. Nestled alongside the rubber chicken were tasting notes and their Geek sheet that gave all of the technical winemaking minutia that you’d want.

These guys kind of remind me of Food Network star Alton Brown and his show, “Good Eats.” They are serious and take their wine seriously, but they are so obviously having fun and creating fun that they take away all the b.s. artifice of wine.

In their own words the vision of the winery was to create a, “Terroir based winery making superior, hand crafted, yummy wines, and then having more fun than anyone else in the industry selling them.”

I’d have to say they are succeeding.Cluck_yeah 900 cases of the Tempranillo were made. Released earlier this year, the Tempranillo grapes were sourced from the Rolleri Ranch outside of Angels Camp, California and were blended with 20% Cabernet.

This is a delicious wine. Tempranillo is generally a blending wine in Spain, but has come on in recent years as a varietal in its own right.

The Twisted Oak Tempranillo shows a nice garnet color and a medium body and is surprisingly well-balanced to drink with or without food. It’s not overly tannic and really mellowed from day one to day two—opening up and showing more fruit and some nice complexity.

On the nose it shows cherry, strawberry and raspberries with some chocolate and dust. The mouth is the same with a touch of anise and some very minor herbal notes.

This is a well-integrated, well-crafted wine. On the UC Davis Scale I gave it a 17.5 with good, but less then perfect scores for bouquet, flavor, and quality—albeit 2.5 points in total—so it’s still a definite winner.

Frankly, I’m glad they sent two bottles because I will surely enjoy the second one—likely with a hearty bowl of chili, which is exactly how I think of these guys and my man-crush. They’re dudes that I would want to have over to drink (beer) with, eat some chili and watch the game. Their spirit and attitude is contagious and their wine is pretty damn good, too.


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