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Around the Wine Blogosphere:  Wine Tasting Tutorial from the Nation of Kazakhstan

A quick post today—fitting for a warm Spring day ...

Mary at Dover Canyon had a recent post on wine scoring worksheets and resources to get started on doing group wine evaluation ...  Liz at Inertia Beverage Group has some tips for using video, and especially wineries using video via YouTube.

Taken together, here’s a YouTube video of Borat doing a wine tasting in Jackson, Mississippi.  Ah, the Make Benefit Glorious Nation of Kazakhstan.

Borat Wine Tasting (WARNING:  This is at least PG-13):

If Borat isn’t your speed, here’s a video of country music legend Merle Haggard singing, “Little Ole Wine Drinker Me” a song that starts with, “I’m praying for rain in California
So the grapes can grow and they can make more wine…” 

Need to kill an hour or three?  Search “wine” or a similar variation on YouTube.  Better yet, don’t do that. Open a bottle of vino and head outside.  It is Spring after all. 


The Law of Three and a New York State of Wine

The “Law of Three” posits that “every whole phenomenon is composed of three separate sources, which are Active, Passive and Reconciling or Neutral. This law applies to everything in the universe and humanity, as well as all the structures and processes,” so sayeth Wikipedia.

I don’t disagree.  It does seem as if things come in threes, including celebrity deaths.

Just the same, I have never thought about wine and flying in conjunction with each other, as I’m usually asking for the third cup of water instead of another 187 ml bottle of bad wine.  So, benignly, I read Lenn Thompson’s post yesterday about American Airlines including wines of New York on transcontinental (i.e. coast-to-coast) flights.  Press release found here. 

Interesting, I thought to myself, airlines are actually doing something that could be considered a value-add.  Travelers haven’t seen that in a while, and wine has almost been an afterthought for airlines for years.

Then, today, I get an email from United Airlines with a wine offer, the 2nd of presumably three airline/wine related things coming my way.  Hartwick & Grove, an online wine retailer with uncertain bricks and mortar provenance, have an offer for United Mileage Plus members that pays 25 frequent flyer miles for every $1 dollar spent at the online retailer.  The come-on in the email indicates (and it’s not a bad deal, actually) I can get the ’02 Mondavi Reserve Cab for a 30% discount priced at $87.50 AND receive 2,188 miles per bottle!  That’s not a bad deal.  A case of wine would yield me a free ticket at the 25K mile mark.

Finally, as the final airline/wine oddity in our troika, I received another email today from Southwest airlines sent out for the express purpose of telling me that prices are going up to $4 across the board for beer and wine and that the new drink coupon book for Rapid Reward members is getting a new look and will “definitely give (me) something to talk about with (my) seatmate!”

If you’re interested in the American transcontinental flights, like New York to San Francisco, to perhaps do a little domestic Michel Rolland-like consulting there is a job opening available for (potentially) a California winemaker in New York City, found at this link.

A new venture called City Winery is starting up in NYC and has something of a Crushpad Wine business model, but less immersive—perfect for the high-end wine lover that thinks that pumpovers and punchdowns is either a name for a very, um, male-centric bar or a kind of guys high school bullying activity.

City Winery
By offering a fractional (barrel) ownership program, City Winery enables wine enthusiasts at many levels to enjoy the unique pleasures of the wine making experience. The opportunity to make and bottle your own wine caters to the natural progression of interest for an upscale wine consumer and aficionado.

City Winery will capture the mystique and pleasures of a winery, with a 250 person capacity central tasting bar and event space surrounded by the wooden barrels, stainless steel tanks and apparatus of wine making. It will combine a hands-on wine making experience in a modern facility with a hip and trendy wine bar to establish a unique and popular venue.

Likewise, if you’re a New York City native, AND you do want that pumpover action with your barrel of wine, Crushpad has the answer for you and they will be in New York City at the end of April to try some of the current barrel samples for current members and interested enthusiastic potential customers.

At the very least have a glass of vino on your five hour flight to or from New York—all the better if it’s actually wine from New York State—that would make Lenn happy, too.


A Wine Safari:  South African Wines Prepare a Broadside in the States

As a something of a companion piece to my recent grocery foray and subsequent post on the onslaught of present and future wine brand extension, I was also just confronted with a new wine at my local grocery store, Kroger.

The grocery store visit, of course, came on the heels of a weekend trip to see some out-of-town friends.  Their nearly four year old son proclaiming all weekend, “RRRRRR, I’m a Cheetah.”

Little did I know, I’d soon run into a little wine marketing, Cheetah-style, at the grocery store.  An end-cap display for Sebeka wine was placed front and center for all passerby leaving the deli section meandering past the wine section and into the rest of the store.

The yellow and black color scheme and picture of a cheetah in full-on Serengeti-kill-sprint mode was certainly eye-catching and people that pay attention to the wine world would find it surprising to find a South African wine on premium pay for placement territory—space normally reserved for Barefoot and Forest Glen.  While Sunday blue laws prevented me from buying any wine, I went back home to try and find out more about this mysterious brand called Sebeka.

Finding information on Sebeka proved to be a little mystifying.  There was some blogger activity, some international news (both of which I’ve come to expect these days), but no brand web site.

Ah, the folks at Gallo, behind the importation of Sebeka, have their mysterious ways.  They get the end-caps going and then drop their press release, which happened today.

From the release:

A new generation of South African wines, named “Sebeka”, has arrived in the U.S. from the Western Cape of South Africa, imported and marketed by California-based E. & J. Gallo. While wine has been made in South Africa for more than 350 years, Sebeka wines will invite the American wine drinker to discover a bold and distinctive style of South African winemaking. If consumers at the Boston Wine Expo and Savor Dallas are any indication, American consumers are going to love what they find.

The new line of wines includes Chardonnay, Sauvignon Blanc, Shiraz, a Cabernet-Pinotage blend, and a flagship proprietary blend of Shiraz and Pinotage which is labeled as Cape Blend. Pinotage is a uniquely South African grape, created there more than 80 years ago by crossing Pinot Noir with Cinsault. The personality of the wine is embodied in the label, which features a Cheetah running in full stride against the backdrop of the South African bushveld. According to Diego LoPrete, in charge of marketing Sebeka in the U.S., “It’s an image that instantly communicates the bold, exotic, elegant taste and quality of our wine and the primal beauty of South Africa.” In 2006, American wine drinkers seeking quality and value put the wines of South Africa at the top of the list of “fastest growing imports”, ahead of France, Italy, and Australia.

This prompted me to head back out to the store to pick some up—the Shiraz, the Shiraz Pinotage blend and the Sav. Blanc.  I opened both the Shiraz and Shiraz-Pinotage blend.  Ehhh.  At $6.99 it was about what you would expect, but certainly not near the quality marker that can be found in other South African wines.

This begs the question of continued hope that we’ll see Stormhoek secure some additional distribution in the states this year.  All things considered equal, if Stormhoek is around $11 to $12 a bottle and the Sebeka is normally priced at $9, I would encourage you, no, I would implore you to buy the Stormhoek and get twice the quality at a fraction of the cost.  This is my opinion and Stormhoek’s as well.  Hugh from Stormhoek likes to say, “Stormhoek.  The Best South African wine for the money. Period.”

Based on what I’ve tasted, I can’t argue with him.

I don’t think these are the only two brands that we’ll be seeing in the states, though.  South African wine is at the bottom of what could be a hockey stick like curve for growth.  I think the key is for them, as an industry, to balance out the everyday drinking stuff with high-end price points, as well.  This is a mistake that Australia made, with few exceptions, and now consumers refuse to buy anything from Australia that costs more than $8 a bottle.

An importer of African wines, and the exclusive importer of wines from the South African Black Vintners Alliance is aiming to change that, and combine their efforts with a social marketing angle.  Check out Heritage Link Brands to see how they are coming at the market with quality (Whole Foods is already a customer) and a cause.

In my humble opinion, South African wines have, perhaps, the most upside of any of the other emerging contenders for significant growth in the U.S. wine import market—Argentina, Chile, Spain, et al.  They are doing varietals that don’t require wine layperson education (except for the Pinotage, which is close enough to earn the trust of even the most naïve wine consumer) and there isn’t an inherent language barrier.  Time will tell whether that’s correct or not, but even if it’s not, you have to give credit to South African producers for aligning themselves with the Western world for growth, against longer odds than most, too.  In the words of this African proverb, “The one who fetches the water is the one who is likely to break the pot.”

For more information on South African wines, check out this link.

UPDATE:  Selena Cuffe from Heritage Link Brands has let me know that they just completed taping a segment for PBS, Time Magazine is doing an interview for a feature that will appear in May and Inc. Magazine will accompany Selena on a trip to South Africa for a story later this year that will focus heavily on their social activism, using wine as the commerce vehicle.  Thanks Selena!


Pot Pies and Wine

I’m what you can call enlightened.  Just a couple of years ago it could be considered “Metrosexual,” but I think the luster has worn off of that word so we’ll stick with enlightened.

I was a bachelor until I wed at the ripe age of 32, darn near a dinosaur in Midwestern terms.  And, I also, frequently, wrestle the grocery shopping chore from my wife.  As a card carrying consumer it is my inalienable right to keep up with what is going on at the grocery store—all of the grocery stores we shop at, too.  I mean, who goes to just one store anymore in this day and age of Trader Joe’s, Whole Paycheck, er, Whole Foods, traditional grocery stores and, of course, Wal-Mart Supercenters. 

Just as other men are glad to be done with their intermittent shopping days that yielded a twelve-pack and some Tombstone pizzas, I’m roshambo’ing my wife to see who wins and goes to the store. 

I like to see what’s available, what is new and, as well,  I like to make sure I’m not missing out on something in the end-caps of the wine section and that I’m looking for the mis-priced gem stuck in a sea of labels. 

Hey, Mondavi Cabernet Reserve and Mondavi Private Selection.  It’s an easy mistake to make for consumers, not too mention sales reps.

Though, frankly, these days you can go shopping, never hitting the wine aisle, and still get an adjusted perspective on the world of wine.

I think wine has become the new pomegranate, or any other new ingredient that makes its way in and around the plate as a trend.  I think radishes and cauliflower are currently getting their due and these trends tend to migrate down the food chain—starting at white table cloth restaurants and eventually down to pre-packaged consumer goods.

With that in mind, has anybody besides me noticed that wine is a about a ½ step away from joining the big boys in the pantheon of consumer goods joint marketing?  Instead of seeing boxes of brownies emblazoned with the “Made with Hershey’s chocolate” and “Made with Splenda” we’re just as likely to start seeing Häagan Daz ice cream with “Rosenblum Zinfandel” dessert wine.

Consider that, resveratrol aside, wine hasn’t typically been much of a foodstuffs selling point.  We’re still kind of arguing with ourselves about wine and food pairing, right?  The thought of combining the two in a ready to eat format seems almost foreign.  Wine is kind of a single channel business—it’s either sold in the bottle, or it’s not sold. 

Not so with other luxury indulgences like chocolate and coffee.

But, I see it coming.  This week it is the one-off Healthy Choice Roasted Chicken Chardonnay, made by ConAgra, touted in their “Flavor to Taste” television commercials with the fact that they use wine reductions.

Or, in other news found here a dairy out of New York has come up with wine flavored ice creams.  There’s Ala Port Wine, Peachy White Zinfandel and Red Raspberry Chardonnay.

I was in a meeting recently with an entrepreneur who wants to create the energy drink category for wine—adding in resveratrol at supplement levels as well as other heart-healthy vitamins, creating the “Red Bull” of wine.

Where there is smoke there is fire and with wines sales growing at such astronomical rates, I think we’re only seeing the tip of the iceberg in ways that wine and wine brands can and will be marketed in the future.

Undoubtedly, a ConAgra Brand Manager is calculating additional infinitesimal product segmentation for their Banquet Beef Pot Pies with *NEW* “Redwood Creek Merlot Red Wine Gravy.”

Is this healthy for the industry?  Absolutely?  Will it rankle purists?  Without a doubt.  Does anybody want to take bets that this won’t happen with greater frequency in the near future?  Absolutely not and at that point I might give my wife unfettered rights to the grocery store.


The “Warren Miller” of Wine Film

Two weeks ago I wrote a post called “The Endless Harvest” observing the increase in wine brands that are globally sourcing fruit and/or wine to create wine brands that definitely capitalize on the increasing “World is Flat” mode of operations. 

I also observed that, from a marketing perspective, having somebody do a documentary, following harvest at various wine regions throughout the Europe, South America, Australia, Africa, etc would be a pretty good idea in order to connect with a younger audience attuned to import brands and travel.

One of the brands engaged in this global sourcing that I could have talked about is Don Sebastiani and Sons.  I more heavily referenced Betts & Scholl for no particular reason, but they are much smaller and less well known than Don & Sons.

The post was timely enough, particularly because the Sonoma Valley Film Festival begins on April 11th.

In response to my post, lo and behold, I got in touch with a Napa Valley-based filmmaker, Bret Lyman, who is creating his current work using the pseudonym B. Napa.  B. Napa not only is working on a project called “Crush,” but he is doing so with sponsorship from Don & Sons.

The short film is going to premier during the Sonoma Valley Film Festival on April 12th.

Damn.  What a good idea.  Those guys are smart—so smart they are at least nine months ahead of my post, which now looks simultaneously prescient, sanguine AND silly.  Silly because I didn’t connect the dots that this was a project already coming to fruition, no pun intended.

I had the opportunity to catch up with B. Napa and talk about his project.  As something akin to the “Warren Miller” of wine films, I sensed a vigor, hardened by his 15 years in New York, which belied his languid California wine country locale.

Plunging deeper, B. Napa is striving for greater permanence, working on a documentary that will take him to Chile and Argentina in the next several months while trying to create an oeuvre akin to the aforementioned filmmaker Warren Miller, an artist and documentarian whose work, primarily, focused on outdoor sports and embodied a grace, subtle wit and deep reverence for its subjects.

Asking, “What does wine mean” B. Napa is exploring this question after living in a post 9/11 New York City, coming to something of a career crisis and crossroads and subsequently moving back to the Valley while experiencing significant family upheaval.

Many good documentaries (and artists) use their subject as a medium to explore greater and more significant issues than what a first blush look would lead you to believe.  The documentary “Hoop Dreams,” for example, used inner-city Chicago basketball as a tableau to explore social issues related to race. 

“What does wine mean” is a good question, and in the hands of this talented filmmaker I’m pretty sure that question, in its exploration, will cut deeper and with more meaning than what we can imagine.

B. Napa’s work shows itself to be almost lyrical in its aesthetic beauty with a keen eye and a trained ear for the right music and, yes, the subtle wit that is a hallmark of Warren Miller.  Check out the world premiere of his short film “Crush,” that will be a part of the Sonoma Valley Film Festival “Cinema Epicuria” on April 12th at 5:30 pm PST.

Check out some of B. Napa’s work at the following links:

“Crush” Trailer:

“Topaz” Film Short:


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