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Two to Ponder and the Impact on Wineries

A Not-for-Profit Invasion?

I am worried, very worried.  Simply stated, working on little more than a hunch, I do not think it is outside the realm of possibility that if the economic climate of today (or if it gets worse) carries throughout 2009, we might see a contraction in small, domestic wineries at a significant clip.

25% loss of winery life pops into my head. 

Most small wineries, with equally small production, live on wine clubs, the tasting room, ecommerce and spot distribution in their regional market.

These, unfortunately, are also areas that are immediately felt in a consumer cutback.  Opting out of a winery club shipment, reduced tourism, less discretionary spending via the Internet and less dining out – all of these are very real realities.

Yet, the realities of the business side do not change – expensive production, carrying costs for wine in barrel before you can monetize, an omnipresent need to invest in marketing and expensive overheard in the form of facilities and personnel and compliance management.

I hope I am wrong, but this reality has me thinking about the nature of business organization, as well.

My question is this:  with two prevalent trends being cause-based marketing and the economy, how long will it be before we see not one or two, but dozens of wineries re-classify themselves as a not-for-profit with an alignment around a cause as their validation for doing so.

For the last five to seven years, scores of not-for-profits have gotten into the social capitalism game and have earned favored, not-for-profit status in doing so – able to operate in a profit-making form and function with proceeds being donated to their cause.

We have not seen the reverse of this – incorporated businesses doing the reverse, but we may soon …

Yet, there is a perception that needs to be overcome about a not-for-profit as a business tool.  Simply, being a not-for-profit means a winery needs to spend all of their money at the end of the year.  Profits are not paid out as dividends to owners or shareholders; they are paid out in the form of salary, overhead or in alignment with the cause.

Frankly speaking, most small wineries are acting as not-for-profits anyway, buckets of profits being scarce, and wine being more avocation then profit center, they are just not aligned with a cause and enjoying the tax benefits that a not-for-profit status enjoys.

It can only be a matter of time before very small wineries realize that the tax benefits of tithing to a favored cause outweigh paying taxes, thereby aligning their marketing efforts to be simpatico with the wine and the selected cause.

It may be that investment in a cause could save the life of a winery, while relieving tax burden.  Uncle Sam may not like it, but the edges of our society who can use a much-needed hand in dozens of areas will. 

For more reading on not-for-profit status, Google “benefits of not-for-profit status”

Touch and then Buy

A fascinating study was released in the research journal, Judgment and Decision Making that has implications for winery e-commerce, particularly those wineries on the higher-end of the price spectrum.

Noted in an article in ScienceDaily, we all know that many purchases require high-involvement decision-making.  The article notes purchasing a puppy and buying a car, two apt high involvement purchases where the “try before you buy” model is almost a pre-requisite and aids in creating attachment before purchase.

However, really, can a high-end wine, absent a Parker score be any different then purchasing a car?  Many would have you believe that shipping costs and compliance issues are the greatest inhibitors to winery ecommerce, but what if it is not either of those—what if it is the lack of tactile engagement with the bottle? 

According to this study, that may be the case:

Researchers from Ohio State University and Illinois State University tested how touching an item before buying affects how much they are willing to pay for an item.  A simple experiment with an inexpensive coffee mug revealed that in many cases, simply touching the coffee mug for a few seconds created an attachment that led people to pay more for the item.

The results, which were published recently in the journal Judgment and Decision Making, found that people become personally attached to the mug within the first 30 seconds of contact.

People who held the coffee mug longer than a few seconds seemed not only more compelled to outbid others in an auction setting, but they were also more willing to bid more than the retail price for that item. 

“The amazing part of this study is that people can become almost immediately attached to something as insignificant as a mug,” said lead author of the study James Wolf, who started the work while he was a doctoral student at Ohio State.

“By simply touching the mug and feeling it in their hands, many people begin to feel like the mug is, in fact, their mug.  Once they begin to feel it is theirs, they are willing to go to greater lengths to keep it.”

This is very fascinating on a number of levels, but particularly related to wine shopping at retail and online. 

Personally speaking, I touch, pick-up, read the label and study every wine I buy at retail.  Perhaps, unbeknownst to me, I have been creating an attachment to that bottle.

However, juxtaposed against this is the wine online buying experience, which is woefully bad, in most cases, with contextual information and pictures.

The best you get in most cases is a label shot.

I read a blog post at Snooth recently where they were shooting bottles because what they got from the wineries was, in most cases, inadequate.

If you look at a wildly successful online retailer Zappos.com who sells shoes, an even more difficult mental sale then a bottle of wine, you can see how they have multiple product shots, interactivity, user reviews and the like.

If I am a winery, the lesson I take-away from this research is that good money needs to be invested in product shots and selling copy.  You want to give somebody all of the ammunition necessary to become engaged with your wine, online, while shopping and if you can do that with a 3D bottle that equates to the visual experience of holding said bottle, then all the better.

For more information, Google search “3D product photography” and “3D camera”


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The Quixotic Kelly Fleming Cabernet

We all know that a wine is more then the sum of its part, the very best expressions have a soul, an embodiment of something that causes our own introspection, moving beyond our DNA to ponder our own existence during a soul-searching respite made all the more enjoyable by an abetting, quixotic companion.

That is how I felt drinking the ‘05 Kelly Fleming Cabernet Sauvignon.

It is all beautiful black cherry and plum fruit, drenched in a creamy mocha and amaretto, framed in earthy elegance, with the inviting allure of structure front to back and a tightly laced finish that lasts for minutes.

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And, frankly, I am glad I am drinking this in January and not December because I now know where the benchmark is for wines to come this year.

It is that good.

It is so good in fact, I did not want to spit, nor did I want to swallow, I just wanted to savor it.

Kelly Fleming is made in very small quantities (700 cases for the ‘05) and is difficult to find, available at fine restaurants in the markets you might suspect—AZ, CA, TX and NY; though distribution is opening up in several other markets this year.  Also available online at the winery web site, this is one wine to act on.

If you need more proof, winemaker Celia Masyczek was named Food & Wine magazines winemaker of the year for 2008, adding this award to an equally impressive list of clients for which she works, including Scarecrow, a wine that is so scarce and so coveted that they aren’t even taking names for the waiting list.

I caught up with Kelly Fleming, and her son Robert, and I did the twenty questions interview that is sporadic feature here.  Proving to be a good sport, funny, very smart and literate (and a football fan—my guess on which of question #20 is the truth!), Kelly Fleming indulges me on my interview questions, which seem to go more along the lines of a winery producing, well, more ordinary wine, and not an $85 wine that could have a market at $150.

One of the benefits of doing a blog, is I can do as I please.  I can ask silly questions to serious wine people.  And, under normal circumstances, I would do a tasting note and review this wine with both stars and a number.  I am not going to do so this time.  Just trust me when I say that this is excellent wine.  Drink the Kelly Fleming Cabernet with food, or alone, preferably dinner with a loved one, go for beef, but stay away from a steak as this isn’t just a steak wine, and then drink alone as a glass, finishing off the bottle.  You will appreciate it more in each individual setting, but it will be alone, in contemplative mood, where its seductions will gather you in.

20 Not So Penetrating “Getting to Know” Questions for a Wine Craftswoman

Good Grape:  Which of the Seven Deadly Sins are you most guilty of?

Kelly Fleming: Gluttony.  I am in the wine business for a reason.

Good Grape:  What is your biggest pet peeve?

Kelly Fleming: Whining adults who have a habit of interrupting.

Good Grape:  What is on your nightstand?

Kelly Fleming: Well it’s not an ashtray full of cigarette butts and a bottle of Jack Daniels.  At least not right now…

Good Grape:  What is in your refrigerator or pantry that you would not openly admit?

Kelly Fleming: Anchovy paste.

Good Grape:  What do you drink when you are not drinking wine?

Kelly Fleming: Don Julio 1942.

Good Grape:  What type of music or radio station is played most often in your car?

Kelly Fleming: JJ Cale all day long …

Good Grape: In what era would you live if you transport yourself?

Kelly Fleming: I’d go back and start at the beginning!

Good Grape:  What is the best wine-related book you have read?

Kelly Fleming: Any book that mentions wine makes me want to drink wine.  So, technically any book about wine.

Good Grape:  What is your favorite movie genre?

Kelly Fleming: Adventure or comedy, something like “Get Shorty.”

Good Grape:  Is your desk messy or organized?

Kelly Fleming: Grand Central Station.

Good Grape:  Are you always early or terminally late?

Kelly Fleming: Never early, sometimes on time and often late

Good Grape:  Do you read the comics in the newspaper?  If so, what is your favorite comic?

Kelly Fleming: N/A

Good Grape:  Who would you want to play you in the movie about your life?

Kelly Fleming: My life is not over. Not sure if this would be a drama or a comedy.  . . .

Good Grape:  What super-power would you most like to have, and why?

Kelly Fleming: I’d like to fly.  The movement and perspective interest me.  I’d fly over the vineyards of Napa Valley.

Good Grape: You are moving and can only take three or four items with you. What do you grab?

Kelly Fleming: With no time: Passport, reading glasses and credit card.  With more time maybe some photos, camera, corkscrew, dinner china. . . .

Good Grape:  What do you do if you have a spare hour?

Kelly Fleming: Roam around the property with Gina, our dog.  Think about doing a painting.

Good Grape:  What is the name of last great restaurant you dined at?

Kelly Fleming: Boulevard in San Francisco.

Good Grape:  What is your favorite ice cream flavor? 

Kelly Fleming: Any flavor melting over the cone from the original Swenson’s in SF.

Good Grape:  What is the best compliment you have ever received?

Kelly Fleming: “You have wonderful children,” or a close second “Those are you’re children?”

Good Grape: “2 Truths And a Lie” – Share 3 unique things about yourself and your life, 2 of them true, 1 false, readers will guess by leaving a comment

Kelly Fleming:

-I think doing the splits when drinking and entertaining …
-I believe I have rhythm and can dance …
-I live for football season.

Good Grape: Thanks very much, Kelly.  My guess is that doing the splits at dinner parties in Calistoga is a bit of a stretch of the truth, but who knows what can happen after too much Don Julio 1942 …


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It Seems to Me ...

I read an editorial at Appellation America, that, as is typical, reads like a leaky plotted thriller—leaving me breathless, but with more questions than answers and some logic holes in the storyline ...

Read this link and wonder if you don’t have an equal puncher’s chance at calling a spade a spade.

Or, continue to support the lunacy and buy some under $25 wine at Appellation America here.   I’m sure they love that the 3rd most sought after wine at the store is from that noted vinifera grape—the Ollalieberry.

You can’t make this stuff up ...

If you’re going to talk the talk, you darn well hew to an execution model in the same vein.

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Vin de Napkin - Four Horsemen

I was listening to NPR on my drive time and they had a story on California home sales being up 6% in December, a surprise lift from expectations.

Then, they did a deconstruction on that number accounting for the vulture sales on underwater deals, foreclosure sales and general sales volume at the expense of distress and, well, the homes sales number didn’t sound so great after all.  NPR, for being a “liberal” news outlet is pretty good at that.  They’re not turning into Obama’s mouthpiece just yet.

That got me thinking about the myriad of things that are going on in the world, and the business of wine which is a microcosm of the world in many ways, and sometimes you just have to laugh or you might cry.

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A Pre-ZAP Zinfandel Face-off

In honor of the Zinfandel Advocates & Producers (ZAP) show, taking place next weekend, January 28th – 31st, I thought I would do a quick wine review face-off between two producers who will be pouring at ZAP.

Clos LaChance

This is a winery with many irons in the fire and an eye on growth.  I ran across them for the first time while in California recently and then subsequently found them in my local market.

They have taken the traditional route to growth by segmenting their wines with a “Special Selections” series representing six wines, an “Estate” series encompassing 13 wines and a “Hummingbird” series with nine wines.  It is the “Hummingbird” wines that are in distribution, and they tend to be priced for everyday consumption - $14 - $25, with most in the $18 range.  I would not be surprised to see these wines drop below that $15 retail level, which seems to be the magic spot for many wine enthusiasts, and where the less hardcore enthusiast is doing most of her purchasing if she is buying a nicer bottle.

The greatest compliment I can give the Clos LaChance wines I have tasted and the 2005 Clos LaChance Central Coast Zin (Buff Bellied Hummingbird) that I am reviewing here is these are not “dumb” wines, all fruit and oak in a pretty package. 

These are well-crafted, quality wines that are expressive of earth and seemingly diametrically opposed to the flavor du jour (hello, 13.5% alcohol in a Zinfandel – what a nice surprise!). They beg for food. At 60,000 cases of production across their line-up of all wines, if they can maintain quality with the growth, this will be a player to watch.  I would not be surprised to see a Wine Business Monthly “Hot Brands” award shortly, either. 

Next up on my Clos LaChance “try” list – Nebbiolo and Grenache, two varietals that should be elegant representations in the hands of Stephen Tebb, the Clos LaChance winemaker. 

Here is my review of the ’05 Clos LaChance Central Coast Zinfandel (Buff Bellied Hummingbird).

Klinker Brick

I have to admit that I am predisposed to OVZ.  Give me an “Old Vine” Zinfandel and chances are I will enjoy it. 

For years, Rabbit Ridge has made an estate “OVZ” that is a fabulous price performer, even if I am still peeved at them for pulling out of the Indiana market.

I have noticed that over the last vintage or so, another unfortunate benefit of not having enough choice at the shelf in Indiana, Klinker Brick has been moving up market past the $15 threshold.  What used to be a $14 bottle with this reviewed ’05 vintage is now an $18 bottle with new packaging for the ’06 vintage.

I am guessing, like Clos LaChance, they will be making a retreat in channel distribution back below $15 a bottle, however.

Cost aside, the truly astounding thing with this vintage of the Klinker Brick is it clocks in at 15.8% alcohol AND IT’S BALANCED.  Really, it is.  Not a bit of heat.

To be frank, this is the sort of wine that drives Old World wine lovers bonkers because it is fruit-forward, expressive, high quality and has massive alcohol.  Klinker Brick is the exact type of wine that drives people nuts because it represents wine that can merit a Scarlet Letter, but is also undeniably good.

Klinker Brick notes, sidestepping what can be a butchered promotional term in the wine biz, that OVZ wines are typically from vines that are at least 50 years old.  Their ’06 Zinfandel is made from vines ranging in age from 37 to 112 years old.  The ’05 likely has a similar make-up.

I would urge anybody that favors Old World to try this with an open mind, you will come away impressed that a Lodi Zin at 15.8% alcohol is not a pox on the wine industry. 

Here is my review of the ’05 Klinker Brick Lodi “Old Vine” Zinfandel


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