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Judas Priest!  It’s Twisted Oak Winery!

A girlfriend of my wife has very cool parents who graciously let Lindsay and I share a weekend at their beautiful summer home in Glen Arbor, Michigan a year or two back.  In particular, my wife’s friends’ father is an interesting, professorial kind of guy who loves wine and loves shopping at Trader Joe’s for wine bargains.

But, in addition to his love of wine, this guy is a 60 year old marvel who whipped my butt in a long distance bike ride, carries none of the paunch that my 30- something body is morphing into and he has an unending vocabulary filled with cuss words that are not cuss words.  “Frit,” “Judas Priest” and the like are all substitutes for their more vulgar and graphics relatives.

I admired this because, frankly, I wish I didn’t occasionally have a potty mouth—despite my fondness for an occasional and cathartic “F-bomb.”

Because of my fondness for a well-placed “F-bomb” and because I think there’s a 100 word gem of a story somewhere nestled next to a well-timed “Judas Priest” reference,  I’m going to enter the Twisted Oak winery label writing contest.

That’s right.  Creative writer’s who can work their copywriting magic in 100 words or less have a chance at immortality by writing the back label for the Twisted Oak 2006 Sierra Foothills %@#$! – a white Rhone-style blend.  Yes, the wine is called %@#$!

For me, this will be a challenge of the first order. I only get limber at about the 500 word mark.  Nonetheless, I will try as should you.  My back label submission may in fact be exactly one hundred words of non cuss word cuss words.  Fiddlesticks, sugar Jets (shout out to my Mom), jeeze Louise, cheese n rice and others wrapped around a Rhone tie-in.

Regardless, the winner gets a free case of wine and all individuals who enter get a 20% off coupon off their next purchase from the winery.  Nice, but immaterial to the immortality of the back label real estate…!

The deadline is March 16th—more information can be found here and a couple of previous label examples can be found here.

In other Twisted Oak news, I received word from El Jefe (owner Jeff Stai) that they are being introduced into the Indiana market in March.  This is great news!  It’ll be nice to be able to connect the wine blogosphere to a local wine shop, which in Indiana happens all too infrequently. 

Jeff at Twisted Oak is a real good guy and they make some exceptional wine with a very irreverent attitude.  Their sales guy is nicknamed Pimp Daddy, if that gives you any idea.  They do a superb job of mixing fun with super premium wine—kind of like when Ferris Bueller talks to the camera and let’s you in on the joke.  I feel like I’m a part of the club and not watching with detached third-party irony.  I don’t know how they pull it off, but they do. 

He and I talked about doing a little blogging wine event in Indy to commemorate the occasion and, well, one thing leads to another and before you know it you have the premiere foodie blog in Indy, a damn fine wine blog with nice graphics, a Calaveras county winery, a boutique wine shop and the distributor all doing a group massage in the name of vino.  I think some rubber chickens are in the offing …

So, if you’re in Indianapolis, here are the specs:  the Upper Room in Broad Ripple on Thursday, March 15th from 6:00 – 8:00 pm.  Cork and Cracker is co-hosting the tasting with the Upper Room, Crossroad Vintners is the local distributor, and we’ll be drinking the wines of Twisted Oak.

%@#$! yeah. 


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I Have Seen the Future of Wine Retail and its Name is VinoVenue

I don’t mean to wax hyperbolic, but as something of a student of new and emerging wine retail concepts, I think a press release flew under the radar on Monday that has implications for a lot of wine lovers. 

Is the future of wine retail a San Francisco based concept called VinoVenue?

In Indianapolis, a wine shop of good repute recently had the opportunity to build a new store from the ground up.  I was hopeful that they would take the opportunity to review the business models of emerging and established wine shops on either coast and create a store that had more of a lifestyle/boutique feel—this was their great opportunity to bridge their legacy early 80s ‘stuffed to the gills and dusty’ mode of operation (similar to wine shops of yore) and get into the new millennium—even better if they could get a restaurant permit in order to sample wines continuously.

After all, the ‘Starbucks meets Anthropologie’ and ‘Wine as a lifestyle choice’ kind of place is making some significant headway in a lot of cities. 

Plus, some really cool new wine sampling technology is making inroads all over the place—Virginia to Florida to Illinois to the West Coast.  Surely, having an Enomatic and the opportunity to sample of bunch of wines off of a prepaid card is a wine lovers Shangri-la. 

Guys that own wine shops are paying attention to the market and paying attention to the things that are manifesting themselves as trends, aren’t they?

What we got instead of a thoughtful consideration of the national wine retail shop market and what might work in being a trailblazer in the Indianapolis market is, essentially, a liquor barn.  A metal corrugated building that has less charm than a Costco.  At least Costco has some brick on their façade.

To make matters worse, they did put a restaurant in the same building, but it’s a freakin’ deli.  Chateau Petrus and Pastrami anybody?

To me, this whole thing is a travesty of the first order.  And, you’ll note I’m not mentioning the name of the retailer.  I do tend to occasionally pull a punch and this is one of those times where incrimination is enough. 

My local lament would be well and good and wasted digital ink on an issue that I never had any influence on in the first place, but, then, I see a press release.  A shining beacon, a ray of hope on an otherwise dreary winter day. 

VinoVenue, a San Francisco based tastingroom/retail shop/wine lounge that features, primarily, small production wines is going to expand:

VinoVenue stretches the traditional wine bar and retail store boundaries by offering guests a new concept for tasting and buying wines. Guests can serve themselves by purchasing a VinoVenue tasting card (like a debit card), inserting it into the automated wine tasting stations, selecting a wine and receiving a 1 oz. pour. Individually priced pours of more than 100 wines sourced from wineries around the globe range from $1 to $40. “We took VinoVenue as far as we could and have every confidence that Brunton Vineyards will be able to take VinoVenue to the next level. We couldn’t have asked for a better buyer to carry on our dream,” commented Mary Lynn Slattery and Nancy Rowland, founders and former owners of VinoVenue.

The “try-before-you buy” model enables customers to make informed decisions before buying a bottle of wine. The wine lounge also allows wine lovers to taste wine that they ordinarily would not be able to taste, such as a $200 bottle of Amuse Bouche or Le Macchiole Messorio, or a $450 bottle of Chateau Lafite. Guests move freely about the elegantly designed tasting space visiting the many wine stations where they can compare different wines from places around the world or experiment with wines they have never heard of before.

VinoVenue has actually been bought by a company called Brunton Vineyards and they are targeting 90 locations within 66 targeted cities in the next two years.

I’m no rocket science, but most of these market expansions ride side by side with television markets.  And, well, since Indianapolis is the 25th largest TV market, I’m guessing we’re going to get our VinoVenue. 

According to the press release:

Brunton Vineyards believes that there is a compelling opportunity to address this large unmet need in the US and around the world by developing wine lounges as environments that one can go into, lounge and taste wine with friends and family in an intimate, upscale setting. “With VinoVenue, we believe we will be well positioned to become a leading company in the wine industry, as it pertains to the retail space,” said Mr. Geno Brunton, Chairman and CEO of Brunton Vineyards. Mr. Brunton continued, “Acquiring VinoVenue and expanding it worldwide will further strengthen our position in the global wine market by adding a portfolio of new wine products that are distributed through our retail outlets. With the addition of VinoVenue, we believe we will be able to effectively offer the best possible array of wines in an attractive, inviting environment that is not currently available to the average wine lover. We expect this to complement our existing asset base in a very positive way.”

Fellas, I agree with you.  There is a tremendous opportunity and I love the concept.  Welcome to Indianapolis.  Take your shoes off.  Please stay a while and let me know if I can do anything to assist.  I know where you can find a corned beef on rye, too. 


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Off the Florida Keys, There’s a Place Called Kokomo

Many people think paradise is a place north of San Francisco, the Napa or Sonoma wine regions—it’s hard for me to disagree, even if I don’t always use my time well to enjoy my time spent in the area. 

“I have got to get better at planning my trips,” I lamented to El Jefe from Twisted Oak winery. He poured his wine at the San Francisco Chronicle Wine Competition public tasting on Saturday, February 24th and was playfully chiding me for not being able to make the event.

I was out in California in January, the week of ZAP’s Zinfandel Festival, but didn’t account for advance planning in order to attend, in addition to missing Saturday’s SF Chronicle tasting.

Dammit.

In a Freudian way, I think I might buy wine as a salve for not having the opportunity to taste through dozens and dozens of wines at a public tasting.
And, so it was this past week as I picked up a bunch of wine at JV Wine in Napa Valley and then at my local store in Indianapolis, the Cork & Cracker.

Make no mistake, however, forsaking genuine tasting opportunities in California and buying wine at a liquor store in Napa is not my preferred mode of operation, but in many ways it helps me try different stuff perhaps better than what I could do by hitting a tasting room, and working through just what’s available in my local market.  Though, there’s not a better deal than a large tasting where you can go through dozens of wines.

Alas, next time …

I do have to say that buying wine at a wine shop in Napa is cheaper (in many cases) than my local market, even with shipping.  The Rombauer Zinfandel was $10 bucks cheaper than what I can find in Indianapolis and the Tulocay Zinfandel that I’ve been buying from a retailer in New York City for $25 was $12.99 at JV.  That $22 dollars on two bottles roughly approximates ground shipping on a 4-6 bottle shipper. 

Amongst several bottles that I’m excited to try are the Bucklin Zinfandel, the Pope Valley Zinfandel, and the Heitz Zinfandel. I’ve already pulled the cork on the 2005 Kokomo Wines Sonoma County Zinfandel.

Aruba, Jamaica OOO I wanna take you
Bermuda, Bahamas come on pretty mama
Key largo, Montego baby why don’t we go
Jamaica

Off the Florida keys
There’s a place called Kokomo
That’s where you wanna go to get away from it all

Back in the day, when the Beach Boys released the song “Kokomo,” band interviews indicated that they thought that Kokomo was a made up word that represented an Island paradise.  Little did they know that a town 45 minutes north of Indianapolis is also called Kokomo—a trust me when I say that this little landlocked gem of a factory town, known for chain restaurants and a world famous strip joint is about as far from a tropical paradise as you can get.

Off the Florida Keys it is not, but one thing we now know is one of their expatriate citizens’ makes some good wine.

Kokomo Wines proprietor Erik Miller is, of course, an Indiana native son from Kokomo, Indiana.  From his web site for Kokomo wines:

Erik Miller, a Kokomo Indiana native proudly introduces his inaugural wine, Kokomo.  From his boyhood days in the farmlands of Central Indiana to his studious past at Purdue University in West Lafayette, Miller always had a westward dream to make wines.  After graduating from Purdue in 1999 he set his sights on Sonoma County to pursue his dreams.
“I traded in the soybeans and cornfields for the brighter skies, rolling hills and vineyards,” Miller said.  “With my Midwestern values I approached the new territory with a promise to always treat the farmers and business the same - with respect.”

The Sonoma County Zin is a fantastic wine, lush but balanced with blueberry, blackberry, crème and toasty integrated flavors. Only 224 cases made.

Kokomo may or may not be a paradise off the Florida Keys, but an Indiana boy is doing some fine work in making some world class wine and paying homage to a place he used to call home—Kokomo, in Sonoma, CA.

Even if I can’t or don’t make future California tasting events, I’ll surely enjoy running across a gem like this in my local wine shop, a make good for my poor trip planning.


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Promoting Salubrious Wine Conversation

On the heels of the 1st Annual American Wine Blog Awards, a watershed moment if there’s ever been one for Wine blogs, I read a blurb from writer Tina Caputo in the February issue of Wines & Wines magazine.

In her monthly column of quick hits called Wise & Otherwise, she posits:

I understand the value of a good blog (especially one that’s not afraid to tell it like it is).  What I don’t understand is why professional writers need to have them, too.  It’s not enough for wine columnists to voice their views in print once a month, or in a weekly newspaper; now they also have to reveal their secret, inner thoughts and feelings in a daily blogs.  What can these people say in a blog that they can’t write in their regular print outlets?  I’ll tell you what:  mundane details about what they ate for dinner last night and the bottle of wine they opened.  Yawn.  I’m not blaming the writers for this blogging bombardment—I suspect the must-blog decree is passed down to them from their editors and publishers. —Everybody has a blog!  The kids are going crazy for them!”—If it’s not worth including in your weekly or monthly columns, chances are, it’s not worth writing about.  By the way, I enjoyed a delicious linguine last night with braised veal and a glass of tasty Nero d’Avola.

Interesting perspective, misguided perhaps.  I shouldn’t be surprised that she holds this position; the magazine she writes for doesn’t provide email addresses for their writers, instead referring all inquiries for all writers to the generic email address of edit@winesandvines.com.  One of the key tenets of blogging is transparency and context—the pen may be mightier than the sword, but in blogging there is never a question of ethics (or shouldn’t be) because motivations are exposed and context is provided. 

As Tim from Winecast.net so eloquently points out in the previous post, Web 2.0 and Wine, the point with blogs is to engage in a two-way conversation.  And while I’m holding strong to my belief that print media isn’t going away anytime soon, what I do agree with is precisely what Tina Caputo gets wrong.  A blog by a professional writer allows that writer to actually engage with their audience as opposed to a one way communication.  It can also be an outlet to do investigative types of things that wouldn’t normally be a part of an editorial mission.  Mark at Uncorked, a writer for the Dayton Daily News, is the master of this approach providing real ancillary value to his print readers.

In another scenario, a blog could be used to provide additional context.

Lenn from Lenndevours has an interesting string of posts dating back to early January that pointedly questioned a New York Times Op-Ed piece written by Lisa Granik that was critical of the New York’s Long Island wine industry.

Essentially what happened is the author of the NYT’s piece, given a large platform, said the Long Island wine business is an ugly baby—she pointed out what she felt were misguided perceptions about the wine, varietals planted, and questionable choices in pricing—basically everything across the board.

Lenn from Lenndevours, a rational advocate for the wines of New York, wrote a response to the Op-Ed piece that refuted, delicately, much of what the she wrote.  Interestingly, Lenn was also able to unearth an article that Granik wrote for another publication that took an entirely different and positive slant on the industry and indicates, at the least, a forked tongue in written form, especially given that the two pieces by the same author were written within 12 the same months.  Lenn’s readers also weighed in with numerous opinions and first hand accounts of the error in perspective or judgment from the author, Granik—including one who pointed out that her full-time profession is for a New York wine distributor, which might skew her judgment.

And, as a third aspect of this scenario, Jeff Miller, a writer for the Long Island Business Times, wrote an analysis of the two pieces between Lenn and his readers and the Lisa Granik piece.  Interestingly, the Long Island Business Times writer never sought direct quotes from Lenn or those that commented on Lenn’s piece, he quoted directly from Lenn’s web site, though siding, generally, with those that defended the Long Island wine industry.

So, coming full circle, back to Tina Caputo’s comments about what purpose a professional writer’s blog serves.  In this entire conversation between Lenn and his readers and the Business Times, the one thing not addressed has been a response from Granik on why or where she was coming from when she wrote a damning piece without much credible evidence to back-up her opinions.  If she had a blog, she could engage in a meaningful conversation with her detractors and provide some context to her opinions and why she wrote what she wrote.  That’s progress, and that’s what blogging can engender—transparency and ethics. 

Tina Caputo might consider doing the same, lest she get caught in the crosshairs of providing an opinion without much support or dubious context.

Oh, and as a side note, in an Editorial footnote appended on February 11, 2007 to the original Op-Ed piece dated January 7th, the New York Time notes:

Editors’ Note: February 11, 2007, Sunday An Op-Ed article on Jan. 7, about Long Island wines, should have mentioned that the writer, Lisa Granik, works for a wine wholesaler that distributes wines from Long Island and other regions.

Undoubtedly, that footnote and correction would not have occurred without Lenndevours analysis of this issue.


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Web 2.0 and Wine

I’ve been interested in the intersection of wine and the internet for several years now and started writing about this subject on my own blog last year. What started with a virtual meet-up in Second Life has turned into a discussion between a group of like-minded techies, wine bloggers and entrepreneurs kicking around these ideas in a Google Group and during monthly online chats. What is evolving is an understanding of the technologies, functionality and business models of combining Web 2.0 and wine. But let’s start with a bit of background first.

Web 2.0 has been defined all around the internet as the “social web” (not to be confused with Web 1.0’s dotcom-led “information web”). While you can find great write-ups at places like Wikipedia, I think this short YouTube video visually demonstrates Web 2.0 and defines it’s essence:

(Note: aggregator readers might have to click back to the site for the video)

So how this applies to wine is both social and commerce related. On the social front there are numerous sites that allow users to log, tag and share their tasting notes. Places like Cork’d, WineLog, Bottletalk, Vinorati, Logabottle, TastyDrop and WineDemocracy. All of these sites feature tagging and ways to share wine experiences with others but when it comes to finding and buying the wine everyone but TastyDrop leaves it up to you to figure it out. While the Wine Searcher links at TastyDrop are a nice touch, they are not nearly as easy as an online wine store.

The second class of wine-related Web 2.0 sites are devoted to selling wine online such as WineQ, Openmarket Wine and Boutique Wine Cellar. Because of the dynamics of the wine distribution system currently entrenched in the U.S. and shipping costs, all these sites are concentrating on small production, boutique wines. This makes good sense as these wines are more difficult to find at retail and the aggregation of many small brands at one store creates critical mass for consumers and economies of scale for wineries and web store owners. All of these sites have some sort of social aspect to them and I expect this to grow as more consumers participate and the recommendation algorithms get better (think Amazon and NetFlix style suggestions). What remains to be seen is who can generate the traffic and sales necessary for long-term success.

I’ve taken to calling all these sites “Wine 2.0” and maintain a listing of links to these sites at Winecast. Over the course of the next year I will write about this subject in greater detail, tracking it’s development. I expect there to be new entrants and somewhat of a consolidation among the tasting notes sites. Whatever the final outcome, there will certainly be more ways for wine lovers to share their experiences online.

Tim Elliott
Winecast


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