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Two Suggestions for a Blessed New Year

I was going to give this post the headline, “How not to be an assh*le in the New Year, but figured that might be a touch strong; just the same, I put it in the lead.  Magnanimous of me (and subtle), I know.

I have several pet peeves, and unfortunately, they cannot all be solved at once. I will forsake a diatribe on people who do not return shopping carts to the corral and (usually the same) people that drive Range Rovers and tote their Whole Food groceries in reusable bags, but don’t recycle at home, and the absolute scourge that is bottled water, which these non-cart returning, Range Rover driving people are usually hauling, as well.  Instead, I will focus on two things that everybody can do in the New Year that will positively affect your wine life.

1)  Learn something new

2)  Throw away your nice wine glasses

Learn Something New

Alice Feiring said something that has stuck with me.  At the Wine Blogger Conference she noted (and I am paraphrasing) that magazines are going prosaic and blogs are going polemic.

It was an astute observation.

In the three years that I have been doing this blog I have seen some marked changes.  Besides the fast food culture of blogging proliferating, we are now seeing a visual fast food to boot.  Before long, a long form blogger who writes 500 – 750 words a post without eye candy graphics will be an absolute anachronism.  However, more disturbing to me is an undercurrent of position taking on what is right and what is wrong. 

This “taking sides” issue is prevalent around new world vs. old world, wine ratings, biodynamics, and many other positions.

In my humble estimation, it would be nice if we all assumed the position of independent voters and took reasoned issue with the issues.  We can be socially liberal, fiscally conservative, believe in the death penalty, be pro-choice, and for guns.  Positions are not mutually exclusive of on another.

I can dig on California wines, but not be for +15% alcohol wines.  And, I can change my opinion from week to week, as context is revealed to me. 

Before long, the whole world will be broken out into polemic camps ala MSNBC liberal media vs. Fox News railing against that liberal media bias, or at least those that opine will be broken into those camps.

That said, one of the things that I strive to do on a frequent basis, to inform my opinion, is take up a subject that I have very little knowledge of and I attempt to understand that information niche.  It helps round out my perspective.

However, I have little doubt that most people do not venture very far afield from who they are as a core person, not growing very substantially outside of their comfort zone.

My challenge to all who read this blog is to be intellectually curious.  I have my Mom to thank for this, as she never stops learning and growing.  Go to Border’s, Barnes & Noble or even Google Blog search and look for magazines, books and blogs around topics that you have a glancing interest in. Spend the next 12 months learning about it with as much depth as possible.  Move on to something else.  Regardless of what the subject matter is, it will inform your worldview, which will inform your passion (wine).

My subject matter for 2009 is outdoor adventure (think Outdoor magazine and National Geographic Adventure magazine).  I am not a big workout-at-the-gym person, but whenever I commune with nature, I always feel good about life and myself.  I am not sure what I will learn by jumping into this outdoorsy niche, but I already know that Redwood Creek wine focuses on this special interest group.  Leave a comment and tell me what you have a tertiary interest in learning more about.

Give Away Your “Nice” Wine Glasses

Just as I rant against the polemics of blogs, I am guilty of the same.  However, I must unabashedly confess that expensive stemware is the bane of my existence. 

The thought of spending money on Waterford, Riedel or Spiegelau (or glassware that is even more expensive) for certain varietals is completely ludicrous to me. 

If you are telling me that a nice Chardonnay or Burgundy is made more enjoyable by proper presentation in the proper glass then I will show you a person that does not deign to purchase a Toyota Camry because a Lexus is a better-made vehicle.  Alas, they are essentially the same car, at the end of the day. 

I drink wine every single day out of one of four vessels – Dollar Store wine tumblers, glass coffee mugs, handmade pottery tumblers, or cheapy wine glasses from winery tasting rooms.

These wine delivery vehicles, as far as I can tell, do not affect the aromas or enjoyment of said wine.

Drinking wine ‘paisano style’ in a tumbler is the way to go with me.  Regardless of how big a wine dork you are, your less enthusiastic wine drinking acquaintances will immediately mark you as one of the bunch and not an assh*le if you drink your beverage of choice in the humblest and least pretentious way possible.

January and February are great months to throw a dinner party – weekends are generally quiet before spring and people clamor for the opportunity to get together.  Those nice wine glasses you use everyday or have in the china cabinet can be donated to Goodwill for a tax write-off.  Go to the Dollar Store and replace them with two dozen wine tumblers for a buck apiece.  Revel in the fact that you are not a wine snob in the New Year. Even better, revel in the fact that you are not a wine snob while you converse with friends about new found topics …

Auld Lang Syne.


The One Number You Need to Grow

The headline for this post is borrowed from no less a source than a Harvard Business Review article that discusses a simple metric for business that has ironic parallels with wine ratings and some implications for the future.

Wine ratings continue to be a hot button issue in the wine business.  It has been that way for the last 20 years and won’t likely abate in the near future, points as entrenched in wine society as cars are to suburban living; the simple numeric rating almost a universal symbol for a subjective basis of wine quality and an equally universal symbol for consumer purchasing confidence.

Despite the flashpoint of ongoing wine controversy and the capricious shrill protests that surround wine ratings, businesses have begun adopting a very simple (and similar) customer satisfaction / word of mouth metric called the Net-Promoter Score to drive their business.


Introducing the Net-Promoter Score

The Net-Promoter Score is a customer loyalty metric introduced by Frederick F. Reichheld in a Harvard Business Review article in 2003.

The premise is simple - Companies obtain their Net-Promoter Score by asking customers a single question that is measured on a rating scale of 0 to 10.  The question:

“How likely is it that you would recommend our company to a friend or colleague?”

Based on customer responses, their scores can be categorized into one of three groups:

1)  Promoters (9-10 rating),
2)  Passives (7-8 rating), and
3)  Detractors (0-6 rating).

To calculate your Net-Promoter score, the percentage of “Detractors” is subtracted from the percentage of Promoters to obtain a Net Promoter score.

A score of 75% or above is considered successful.

Now, this is not a piece of junk business trends management—nonsense that comes along every five years or so – companies like American Express, Progressive Insurance, T-Mobile and General Electric (GE) are adopting this measurement methodology.  GE CEO Jeffrey Immelt has compared Net-Promoter Scores to Six Sigma, the legendary methodology for process improvement.

Net-Promoter Scores in the Wine World?

Why is this important?

It is simple – there are a several converging circumstances that continue to shape the wine world:

1)  An increase in the quantity of different wines from thousands of wineries domestic and Int’l
2)  A tsunami of social engagement online amongst wine lovers
3)  An ongoing need for wine ratings to help bring order to the marketplace
4) Online tasting note sites continue to grow and expand (CellarTracker and Snooth, amongst others)

Despite the controversy of wine ratings – essentially a Net-Promoter Score, trends would lead you to believe that wine ratings will not decrease in the face of social media, but actually increase!  Some have posited that the unlimited space of the digital realm would lead to the ability to use story and narrative as a means to provide a richer detail and context.

Yet, it seems that social media simply means more information to manage which plays directly into the hands of ratings and scores.

Wineries everywhere must be shuddering.

Companies like CellarTracker have a tremendous opportunity to create an ability to translate the user-generated ratings that populate their site into an aggregated score mechanism, like a Net-Promoter Score, that answers the ultimate question:

Would You Recommend Us?


This post as a downloadable PDF

Additional Reading - Inc. Magazine

Additional Reading - BusinessWeek Magazine

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Wine Follies from the Vault

Swirl, practically speaking, isn’t confined to a wine glass. 

For example, this week, as I was traversing the interstate here in Indianapolis, I was randomly thinking of my most embarrassing wine-related moments—mental swirl, if you will.

... like the time I went to a holiday party and the hostess gave me a glass of red wine on the rocks.  Not my embarrassment, but just the same …

Or, the time I was re-gifted a bottle of wine that I had given six months prior.  Not my embarrassment, but just the same …

No, my most embarrassing wine moment was much more grimace-inducing.

Mind you, I am a lapsed Catholic.  Being a Catholic is the surest thing there is to a birthright to enjoying a good tipple.  And, in that insular Catholic kind of way I guess I assume everybody enjoys a cocktail. 

About 10 years ago when I was a budding, yet neophyte wine lover, I flew solo on an out of town meeting to visit a tech company in Utah. For reasons unbeknownst to me, Utah has a vibrant business culture, particularly around technology.  In this case it was a tech company that had a Linux distribution.

After our meeting, we went to dinner at a nice restaurant whose name now long escapes me.  It was probably a steak joint.  I was 26 at the time sitting with a bunch of guys (seven of them) who were all in the family-and-gray-hair-age-range.

I’m often amazed these days at the grace, poise and wherewithal of twentysomethings.  Many are so well-spoken and mature for their age.  Um, 10 years ago, I was not one of those guys.  The gents I was about to enjoy dinner with didn’t seem like peers to me as much as they seemed like elders.

Despite my youth, I did have the sense that as the host of the dinner, it was incumbent upon me to order wine for everybody.  And, folks, therein lay the folly in this story from my “never to be spoken of again” memory vault. 

As I was examining the wine list, I did a spot-check around the table to see what everybody was going to order.  Meanwhile, the waiter was taking drink orders while I perused the wine list.

I found it odd that most everybody was ordering a coke or some sort of soda. “Typical Utah,” I thought.  They drink soda and wine together at the table.  “They’ll probably drink red wine with fish, too.”

Undaunted, I proceeded to order four bottles of two different reds and two bottles of a white in that medium price point that denotes “special occasion” or “expense account” without being too extravagant, or cheap.

We proceeded to plow into appetizers, while the gang merrily slugged away at their soda.

Then, a phalanx of table service folks arrived at the table with stemware and corkscrews.  Three glasses each because we had three different wines and, of course, ceremoniously, I had to ensure that the bottles were fit to drink, which I approved with a swirl, sniff and sip.

Imagine my surprise as the waiter/sommelier started in on pouring for the guests and one after the other, every single person declined a glass of wine, until the waiter got to me.  The wine bottle(s) from which I sampled, still untouched.

My pour was agonizingly slow and loooooooooong as the waiter seemingly thought I was either an idiot or I was going to be drinking a lot of wine. 

Now, most people who are reading this, based on my physical geography at the time, can now deduce that I was seated with a bunch of Mormons, yet my cluelessness went one step further. 

As I proclaimed in mock protest, “What?  No wine?”  “C’mon guys,” the gent seated to my left leaned in politely to say, “We’re Mormon.  We don’t drink alcohol.”

And, at that point in time I turned as crimson as the glass of freshly poured wine that sat in front of me.  I wanted to drink all four bottles of wine, or crawl under the table, one of the two.

And, in one fell swoop, there went the plans to take them to the strip joint after dinner, too.

The morale of the story?  I would like to say it is to have better social graces, but, frankly, I think the morale is to defer to the most senior person at the table, assume you’re with teetotalers in Utah and, yeah, well, don’t tell your boss that 3.5 bottles of wine were left at the table on the company dime.


Vin de Napkin - Reality TV

In what has to be one of the longest run-ups to a reality television show in history, first announced in 2007, the producers for The Winemakers announced that they will begin casting for season 2 early in 2009.

And, apparently, for those scratching their head wondering what happened to season 1, the debut was pushed back to early ‘09 because their previous premiere would have coincided with election coverage.

This is like being five years old and having your parents tell you your going to Disneyworld—approximately 1 year from now.  For the love of pete, let’s get this show on the road, er, the television.



An Unusual Burger and Wine Pairing

A while back, a friend of mine with teen kids told an amusing story about teen boys and Axe body spray, no doubt a precursor to the dubious Burger King cologne, with hints of ‘cooked meat,’ that was launched this week, in time for the holidays. 

As the story went, these freshmen in high school dudes would finish their gym class to shower and get ready for their next class and so vigorously spray themselves down with Axe body spray of differing scents that the locker room would be choked with a powdery residue hanging in the air and a nausea-inducing stench.

Eventually, body sprays were banned from the locker room.  Public safety, I suppose. 

Little known to most of the free world, those tragic-comic Axe commercials about Axe body spray helping teen guys land woman, apparently work with 12-15 year old teens. 

Who knew?

According to Wikipedia, though I have not seen it, Axe rolled out commercials this year for their chocolate scent, Dark Temptation, “a chocolate smelling fragrance that implies that because women like chocolate, they will find men who smell of chocolate irresistible.”

Clearly, Axe was the inspiration for the simultaneously awe-inducing and head-scratching announcement this week that Burger King was selling promotional cologne called “Flame” that promises to marry “the scent of seduction with a hint of flame-broiled meat.” 

My only question is, because there are wine-related perfumes available, as featured by Dr. Vino a couple of years ago, what burger perfume do you pair with what wine perfume?


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