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Around the Wine Blogosphere

Ever wonder what Gary Vaynerchuk does when he is not in the offices at WineLibrary

Apparently, he gives keynote speeches to internet marketing audiences, and probably for enough dough to pay my mortgage for the next year. 

Good for him because the people that truly get wealthy are the folks that figure out how to make money in both pockets, like the winery that watches their land ownership appreciate at a level that far exceeds what they make from operating a winery. 

I was sucked into the vortex of this internet marketing market, which is not completely different from the wild-eyed evangelical capitalist program that Amway runs, if I can say that in a non-offensive way, by reading the blog business site problogger.net.  Problogger.net had a link to an article by a guy named Yaro Starak, who then had a cross-promotion with a guy named Rich Schefren, who sells marketing programs to internet denizens with dollar signs in their eyes.  Schefren had linked up with our own Gary Vaynerchuk in a “Maven” program.  I wrote about this in a post found here.

Weird how these internet pathways occur.  Or, really, weird how small our world is.

I was initially skeptical of this market, but I have come to view it now as a part of the huge self-help industry and, well, ‘live and let live,’ I say.  A million and one books are printed every year about “getting rich” and lord knows that “The Secret” has sold a million copies by itself, so who am I to be a ‘Debbie Downer’ for this market?

Check out the brief video of Gary in action here.  The real news is what many in the wine internet space have been wondering for months—when is Gary going to blow up and go mainstream?  In his talk, he alludes to being represented by Creative Artists, one of THE premiere talent agencies in the country. 

Godspeed to Gary.  I do not think he will forget where he came from, and, more importantly, I think he is smart enough to say “no” more often than he says, “yes.”  Translated in exact terms, that means no reality television.

Perspective on Bordeaux

Like a lot of people, I think I have been inured into believing that 2005 Bordeaux was out of reach for my pocket book, yet, despite the eight 100 point scores that Wine Spectator recently bestowed upon wines ranging in price from $4,975 for Chateau Petrus to $260 for Chateau L’Evangile, there is hope in the form of perspective. 

In another quote from the March 31st edition of Wine Spectator:

“The superexpensive wines represent only about 2 million bottles of the 900 million produced in Bordeaux in 2005,” insists Mathieu Chadronnier of CVBG, one of the region’s biggest fine wine merchants.  “It’s not that much of the production when you look at it properly.”

Jill from Domaine547.com has several ‘05’s for sale including a well-reviewed wine from WS and Parker for $30.

Elsewhere, I bought a couple of bottles of the St. Emillion from Cameron Hughes for $20 a piece. 

That is good advice, especially as the ‘05s make their way to store shelves in the states.  I am guilty of wistfully looking at folks that lived in other eras and had access to terrific wines that are legendary and wish I had their generational luck.  Turns out, I now have my own luck and with reviews across the board being stellar, there is really no reason not to buy some of the 2005’s and lay them down for the long haul.


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’02 Tulocay “Nord Family Vineyard” Pinot Noir

Joel from Winelifetoday.com is the host for the upcoming Wine Blogging Wednesday and he offers another inspired theme for March.  He requests:

Comfort Wines - choose a wine, any wine, that you love to unwind to and tell us about not only the wine but what makes the experience special and relaxing for you!

I love this theme because every wine lover has a couple of producers that they lean on for reliable satisfaction and tapping into that vein of embedded expertise will truly be interesting; there should be something for everybody to learn.

Joel could have just as easily called it, “My Wine Woobie” because I think that is what he’s getting at.  What wine is your comfort blanket, your “woobie”—a term immortalized in the 80s movie Mr. Mom.

I have several of them, which is why I am talking about one today, just a bit ahead of the curve of Wine Blogging Wednesday on March 5th.

Tulocay Winery is an iconoclastic winery in Napa Valley, and it is one the wineries I always reference in the midst of the answer to the question, “What’s a good wine I should buy.”

To me, Tulocay falls into that category of satisfying not only my need for a reliable wine across varietals, but it also satisfies the requirements for which good ‘friends and family’ wine recommendations are made:

1)  The wine is classically structured, but fruit forward
2)  The wine is reasonably priced
4)  The label speaks to a classic wine sensibility
5)  The winery has a bit of personality and is “authentic”
6)  The wine is not available on the end-cap at your local “Piggly-Wiggly”

Not only is the Tulocay not available on end-cap at the Piggly-Wiggly, but it is scarce.  Tulocay does not sell online, though you can sign up for the wine club and you can phone in orders.  I have purchased mine at JV’s in Napa and on the Internet at a NYC wine retailer and you can find it elsewhere by looking at the usual places – wine-searcher.com or winezap.com.

I also happen to appreciate the Tulocay sense of humor.  On their web site they say, “Copy anything you like and use it.  Plagiarism is flattery.”

I am not plagiarizing, but I am excerpting.  The site goes on to say, in a homey way:

As Napa Valley wineries go, Tulocay is really one of the oldest. It’s also one of the smallest. And just in case you’re wondering, it doesn’t have any trams, fancy tours, or gift shops.  But the boss does offer tastings and his own “down home” style of tour. And you’re even welcome to have a lunch here on his picnic table under the giant oak in the front driveway. The only requirement is to give him a call a day or two in advance so he can make sure he’s around. Fair enough?

Every wine I have had from Tulocay has been pleasurable with a sense of place, in a distinctive California style.  It’s hard to balance approachable, but classic, yet that’s what Tulocay does, at a reachable price point, to boot.

They are one of my “Wine Woobies” and my review is below:

’02 Tulocay “Nord Family Vineyard” Pinot Noir


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Are you an Agrarian or an Opulent?

I have been giving a lot of thought lately to a very simple premise related to people’s fascination with wine.

I believe that most people that crossover from being drinkers of wine to having general wine enthusiasm just before turning into a full-on wine elitist go through a sub-conscious process akin to Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs. 

In this process, you realize that there is something about wine that transcends what is merely in the glass.  It is the whole shooting match that goes with wine, particularly an orientation to lifestyle.  Like the hierarchy of needs, we eventually actualize and project our self-image outward and into wine as a vehicle for how we see ourselves.

So, here is what I have been thinking about: Do we think that wine and its associated lifestyle is more appealing from an agricultural perspective, or from a luxury perspective?

Oh, there is a huge difference. 

Do wine enthusiasts fantasize more about a winery as a cultured farm, or living the high life as a gracious ambassador to customers?

The difference is really the image of Dover Canyon versus, say, Ferrari Carano.

I know which way I lean, and it is not related to Fumé Blanc.

Maybe my preference for the rural activities is related simply to my own background.  I am only a generation removed from the farm.

Perhaps others who had a different upbringing are more predisposed to the bon vivant lifestyle associated in pockets of the industry.

What do you think?  And, more importantly, are you an Agrarian or an Opulent?

On a separate, but related note, please check out a beautiful post from Mark at winecanine.com.  He is a fellow Hoosier wine blogger and has written an elegy to rural Indiana that everybody can appreciate.

The gist of it is, our version of agrarian, not wine-related, but instead a maple sugar farm, had a tragic fire in the last week. 

You can read his post here and see associated pictures here.


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Observing the Underbelly and Hitting the Wine Blogging Down Cycle

I know it exists because I have talked to other bloggers.  It happens to every wine blogger.  At some point, your wine ardor turns arduous. 

Man, that ever-ready Zippo lighter igniting your passion turns into wet book of matches.

That desire to write, write, write vanishes and all you want to do is go live on a farm and raise chickens. 

I have personally been experiencing this over the course of the last couple of weeks as I contemplate career, blogging and the convergence of it all. 

I am actually in a bit of a creative jag, but the circumstance around the jag makes it all so confusing. 

Frankly, I have had to re-think the notion of “love what you do and never work a day in your life.” 

My personal analogy is a bit unsavory in polite company, and better left unsaid, but suffice to say that all things, even those that give pleasure, can be too much; it is what happens when allow commerce to take the wind out of your sails for your hobby.

Now, I am being a bit overly dramatic here in regards to my own ardor, but I am doing so purposefully because I have noticed an unintentional thread amongst several bloggers recently that is too coincidental to chalk up as happenstance.

Hugh at gapingvoid.com had a very interesting post several weeks back related to this very topic.  Hugh, late of Stormhoek, is a wine industry ex-pat, too.  The net of the post was:

Beware of turning hobbies into jobs.

The late billionaire, James Goldsmith once quipped, “When a man marries his mistress, he immediately creates a vacancy.”

What’s true with philanderers, can sometimes be true in life.

Hugh continues and relates an anecdote about a man that turned his passion into payroll and subsequently went on to find hard luck.

“That’s why you should never turn your hobby into your job,” said one of my friends, someone far older and wiser than me. “Before, this man had a job and a hobby. Now suddenly, he’s just got the job, but no hobby anymore. But a man needs both, you see. And now what does this man, who’s always had a hobby, do with his time?

My friend held up his glass.

Now, consider that within the span of a week, perhaps a week and a ½, in addition to the Hugh at Gapingvoid post, I have run across the following posts:

Jamie, guest columnist at Lenndevours says:

I’m sick of wine.

I don’t quite know how this happened, but it’s true. At some point during the past year, I lost interest in wine and – quite frankly – don’t give a fig anymore. Or at least at the moment.

Lyle Fass from Rockss and Fruit says:

Getting back from Europe tomorrow and it turned our to be one of the more extremely difficult trips of my life. As a result my inspiration to write about wine is pretty non existent at this time and the forseeable future so this site will be here but not updated for a while. I’ll be back one day. Thanks for everyone who reads and comments. It is greatly appreciated.

Tom from VinoFictions says:

Anyway, here I am wondering if the Internet discussion of wine has run its course. I spent over an hour today scanning wine oriented Web sites and could not find an original subject among them. Seems we keep talking about the same issues, and the same bad information keeps on circulating, as well as the same good information—the operative word is “same.”

What’s new in wine? What questions need answering?

When I started this blog over a year ago, I thought it could go on for a long time; I thought there was so much needing to be addressed. Did I address them all? I doubt it. Maybe I was wrong.

Like I said, I know other bloggers go through dry spells, when life collides with hobby making this blogging thing more work than fun, particularly those that happen to secure their living within the wine industry, but who knew we were going to go into a full-on case of Seasonal Affective Disorder?

While I do not discount Hugh from GapingVoid, in fact I believe what he says to be true, the best thing I can say, and I do not have any real answers here outside of just an observation, but the following quote from the movie, “She’s the One” rings true: 

Between Father (Mr. Fitzpatrick) and Son (Francis Fitzpatrick)         
I told you it’s…
           
...it’s a down cycle, that’s all.
           
What? You’re not familiar
with the “down cycle”?
           
No. What, exactly, is a “down cycle”?
           
You know, in a relationship
you got ups, downs…
           
...sometimes you do it a lot,
like you do…
           
...other times, not at all.
         
Ups and downs and…
The down cycle.

Wine, like anything in life, has natural lifecycle and sometimes that which gives you the greatest pleasure can rob you of joy.  You just gotta keep on, keeping on and work through that down cycle. Or, use the pidgin latin phrase, Illegitimi non carborundum, which basically means:  “Don’t let the bastards wear you down.” Finally, there’s a vignette in the House of Mondavi when Robert is in litigation with his family and he was pacing in the hall deep into the night, repeatedly hitting the wall with the soft underside of his fist, repeating, “Only the strong survive, only the strong survive, only the strong survive ...”

Lyle, Jamie, Tom, Hugh … you listening?


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Around the Wine Blogosphere

On the cusp of the 2nd Annual American Wine Blog Awards, one of the interesting things happening is the fact that, in my humble opinion, online wine content has reached a critical tipping point.

It feels like a saturation point, but I think that is underestimating the movement because the cup will continue to overflow for the foreseeable future. 

Simply, there are A LOT of wine blogs, many of whom are providing excellent content, and in fact, there are almost too many for a reader pool to keep up with on a sane level.  There has been an explosion and this looks to continue unabated for some time to come.

The only alternative is for all of this content to niche itself out to a stratified consumer base. 

I think in the short-term, what this means is that wine blogs will have to focus, focus, focus on what their niche is, sometimes a daunting task for me, and a lot of other people that like to blog around what takes their whim.

With that in mind, I like to stop occasionally and do a digest post, or a couple of digest posts, to comment, provide a pointer and generally look at things happening in this little pocket of the wine universe. 

Social Network for Wine Industry and Wine-Technology Affinity Group

A couple of months back there was a palpable migration of wine bloggers and wine aficionados to Facebook.com.  Many dozens, perhaps hundreds, of people that are in and around the wine industry and wine blogging and wine blog reading made their way to Facebook.com, yours truly included.

Facebook is a fun tool and I made some new connections, but there is a missing ingredient with the site.  It is great to have 100 friends, but it seemed more social than business oriented.  Scrabulous and movie quizzes are fun, but as a tableau for making connections that can pay off as a benefit to your wine blogging site or your wine business it just seems a little too fun-oriented.  If Myspace.com is like a keg party, Facebook.com is a young twenty-something micro-brew and cheese party.  That is not bad by any means; it is what it is, despite the open technology hooks that allow developers to create programs that add value. 

So, it was with interest that I saw and joined a social network that just started called, the OpenWine Consortium.  Found here.

The OWC is positioned very inclusively for everybody, but with a focus around the new guard in the wine industry and those that appreciate wine:

OpenWine Consortium is a global, non-profit wine industry association featuring the newest generation of emerging companies, wineries, publishers, services and a motivated community dedicated to changing the world of wine.

Joel Vincent from winelifetoday.com has taken the lead on organization and I encourage anybody with a passing interest in wine blogging, online wine commerce or just general wine enthusiasm to sign-up and engage today. 

With Superpokes out of the way (inside joke for Facebook users), this could be a powerful tool in taking wine and technology to the next level.

Online Wine Video Continues to Explode

The online wine technology niche has seen several entrants over the course of the last couple of years—folks like Wine Spies, Radcru.com, Americanwinery.com and Appellationamerica.com come to mind.  Leveraging a mail list or general consumer visits, these companies present wines for sale.  There are some tweaks to the business model on how they are executed, some do it on a commission basis, and others take in inventory.  It is a variation on the wine.com’s of the world and a little bit closer to the high-end enthusiast.

If you couple this with the explosion of video blogging and podcasting, what has not emerged is an entrant that provides video-based contextual information on the winery itself, from the winery participants.

That is, until now.  Jon G. from the very popular wine review site Quaffability has launched a new site called, Web Tasting Room. 

It’s an interesting concept and still early in the process, but the business model for engaging consumers with an inside out view of the winery, via video blogging, from the winery itself is new, fresh and seemingly the right thing at the right time.

Elsewhere, tackling video from a retail perspective, joining WineLibrary TV as the gold standard, is Just Grapes (found here), a Chicago retailer.  It looks as if they are re-purposing their existing retail activities by videotaping and putting it online.  In this case, currency will be integral as it looks like their last video update is from the holidays, but keep an eye on them as an example of retail adopting new marketing techniques in engaging us, consumers. 

My sense tells me that the wine blogosphere –writing and video—is pre-disposed to a very organic path to providing information.  The Just Grapes of the world are swimming upstream against a perception that their video/web marketing efforts are too slick.  One of the things that make Wine Library TV a winner is its vitality and authenticity.  Does Gary sell wine based on his video blogging?  Absolutely, but he is smart about not mixing art and commerce in a heavy-handed way.

That notion of keeping art and commerce separate makes the Fleming’s Steakhouse wine site, VineVoyages, a very interesting proposition.  Like the Web Tasting Room, the Fleming’s site focuses on the producers in a very polished way with the intent to create mindshare for the steak house, as opposed to direct sales.  Keep an eye on this site.

Separate from these relatively new entrants, an ongoing thread of conversation in the online wine world has been a level of anticipation for The Winemakers, a PBS reality show that is one part Survivor, one part Top Chef and two heaping portions of The Apprentice.

While the show has not premiered, you can go to YouTube and get a preview dose of the participants and the show scheduled to air in the late spring and Early Summer of this year.  Check it out here and here.

Finally, if you noted that Al Gore recently lauded the wine industry for its green ways, then you may want to check out another Al Gore project—Current TV – a sort of millennial generation public access network where all of the content is user generated.  Current TV is on many cable networks, but you can check out the web site and search for “wine” to get a bunch of content of varying degrees of professionalism. 

One of my favorite videos on the Current site is this guy that plays sweet music using water filled wine glasses. Long a staple of the late night television, I find this completely fascinating.  In terms of party tricks, forget slinging an acoustic guitar or sidling up to the piano.  I would love to learn how to do this. 

One thing is certain for the rest of 2008 and the coming years for the wine industry and wine consumers, while industry vets are focusing on price pressures, imports, and wine industry mechanics, the marketing game is completely changing.  I hope the existing industry is paying close enough attention, because many new entrants certainly are. 


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