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Good Grape Announces Formation of New Business Venture:  Churchchug.com

For Immediate Release              

Contact:  Sister Mary Elephant
Sisters of St. Francis of Perpetual Adoration
574-555-1212
melephant - at - sspfa.org

Award Winning Wine Blog Announces New Online Wine Retail Outlet Bringing the Very Best Church Wines to the Public

Indianapolis, IN - April 1, 2010 -  Not content with the slightly less than mediocre success he’s earned from writing over 1000 considered and researched blog posts over the last four years, while winning awards for the design of his site for which he simply wrote a check, Jeff Lefevere announced the pending launch of a new venture in the wine business: http://www.churchchug.com.  The site is being developed to provide redemption in two forms—stroke his deflated ego by throwing good money into another questionable sinkhole and provide a market for an oversupply of altar wines.

Churchchug.com, launching on April 15th, will be the premiere eCommerce destination online for wine lovers to find and buy the very best in altar wines, a quickly developing, but currently overlooked niche in the wine business.

Said Lefevere, “The decision to start ‘Church Chug’ was easy.  First, can you imagine how kick-ass the t-shirts are going to be?  I mean nobody starts a business without thinking about what the t-shirt will look like.  Second, ‘Orange’ wines are very trendy right now with those in the know.  I couldn’t find anything that rhymed with orange, so I kept brainstorming ...”

He continued, “I always said that I would eventually head back to the Catholic Church after the guilt from 12 years of Catholic school dissipated.  After almost 20 years away from the Church and after marrying a Jewish girl, I figured my hosanna to heaven should be around one of the few things I do worship—wine.  What could be better than to start a business in THE LAST AVAILABLE NICHE left in the wine business and bring the beautiful altar wines that are served on Sundays around the country to your dinner table?  Plus, you can already buy Manischewitz at the grocery store so that’s not so unique.  And, well, with the priest problems the Catholics are having and with H1N1 cutting down on the number of people taking wine at communion there’s actually a pretty good supply of altar wine available cheap.”

The online wine store will begin with a curated selection of church wines.  Said Lefevere, “It’s important that we build our reputation in two forms—first, based on my palate.  Like any wine expert, I’ll tell you what’s good and what’s not—the reality is there’s a lot of plonk in the church wine market so I sift through the good and the bad and give the very best to my customers—soon to be recognized brands like Onehda, Cribari, Mont La Salle, and Guasti are all delicious wines that deserve more than a sip and and some backwash into the chalice.  I’m going to make sure of that.  In addition, we have to start letting these wines earn notice from notable critics, which is already starting to happen.”

Church Wine Wins Critical Acclaim

Renowned 4th tier Wine Critic Steven Blanzer, critic for the Global Wine Cellar, awards one of the church wines soon to be available at Churchchug.com 96 points.

Said Blanzer, “I travel and dedicate all of my time to wine, so I know what I’m talking about, I’m not some amateur who does this part time. When I taste a non-vintage field blend from Fresno that inspires me like the Cribari, I know I’ve seen something that can be very, very special.  Plus, as a former altar boy, I have memories of preparing altar wine in the vestibule before mass.”

His tasting notes on the Cribari Burgunday noted, “Incense, Olivewood, Jovan Musk, and Ether.”

Churchchug.com plans to offer a complement of gourmet, artisan foods to pair with the church wines in the late summer of 2010.  Lefevere offered, “Have you ever had those wafers they give out at communion?  They taste like the concrete floor of a basement after a college kegger.  For the love of God and all things holy, we’re going to provide some tasty pairings for these wines to show the way they were meant to be shown.”

About Churchchug.com
Founded by Jeff Lefevere who is Owner, CEO, President, and Chairman of the Board, Churchchug.com is his attempt at relevancy in the competitive world of wine.  Destined to become the #1 source for church wines for consumers, the site launches April 15th. 

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Wine and Video:  A Round-Up of What’s Around

In 2004 Barack Obama brought the house down at the Democratic convention, planting the seeds that brought his presidential candidacy and subsequent victory; a campaign that was significantly aided and abetted by social media, particularly the use of YouTube.

While hard to believe now, YouTube didn’t exist in 2004, launching in February of 2005.

My, how times change. 

Now, the State of the Union address is streamed live on YouTube.  We’re just a couple years off from true convergence of our TV, computers and mobile.  Shit will get crazy then and wineries setting up a Facebook fan page with 300 “fans” will be charmingly quaint and Social Media experts turned “Internet Media Convergence Specialists (IMCS)” will be exhorting a different set of plays from the playbook.

Until then, though, we can still revel in the silo-based fragmentation that is our media consumption with YouTube as the centerpiece.

Below are some recent wine-related videos and some brief commentary:

The Wine Line

Comment
I work for a digital design firm—a company that does 2D/3D animation and Flash.  This particular video is made using Flash, so I know the relative craft that goes into making this—and it’s funny to boot.  Kung Pao chicken ... watch it and laugh.  Plus, any hop-on, hop-off winery bus service in Paso can’t be too bad ...

Trefethen

Fallow from Trefethen Family Vineyards on Vimeo.

Comment
Trefethen sent out a box a few weeks back.  It said, “Perishable.  Open by April 1st.”  Inside was a 50ml bottle and a note card that said in part:

“Trefethen 2009 Estate Fallow.  This is pure 100% Fallow, grown on a small parcel of our Trefethen family Estate ...this is 100% organic, untouched by the hand of man ... this distinctive wine is brilliantly clear with delicate nuances of the character of Napa Valley Fallow ... it also mixes well with puff pastry, souffles, and savory dishes topped with gastronomic foam ...”

To be honest, my wife and I looked at the bottle for a couple of minutes trying to figure out what the heck was going on because the bottle is empty.  Then, I turned the bottle over and saw, “This is pure trefethen Fallow, bottled to capture the very essence of the Napa Valley; light, delicate, and ethereal.  The perfect match with April Fool’s dinner.”

Of course, “Fallow” is that mystical unicorn-like wine that comes from fallow land.  Land that isn’t planted under vine for a period of restorative time.  This is a cute, clever and nicely done April Fool’s by Hailey and Loren.  Now, if they would have sent the 2005 Reserve Cabernet that Heimoff gave a 99 score, we’d really be on to something ... no joke.

Sutter Home

Comment
Amongst online tutorials, CommonCraft is something of the gold standard—pioneers of a style that is oft-imitated.  I can’t tell if CommonCraft did the Sutter Home video, but if not, it’s derivative, though still very nicely done. Check out the Cabernet video here.

Washington Wine

Comment
Seattle rapper “DIP” dropped his debut album last year called, “Washington Wine.”  I’m surprised that with all of the mindshare that is being fomented with Washington wine (the industry, not the rapper) an enterprising winery hasn’t embraced this guy with the mad flow.  Look for an after party with DIP at the Wine Bloggers Conference in Walla Walla this June.  DIP will be playing cuts from Washington Wine including the single, “Baby she fine.”


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Vin de Napkin: Mock Outrage

I read Lewis Perdue’s muckrucking at Wine Industry Insight last week.

His mock outrage and pot stirring regarding Gallo and “Le’Affaire Red Bicyclette” certainly plumbs new lows in wine-related online scandal-making.  At the least, his approach to reporting is in line with his fiction writing and the old axiom, “Don’t let the facts get in the way of a good story.”

*Update*

Lewis Perdue left a comment on this post indicating that he has presented facts and there is more to be disclosed.  While I acknowledge that his story is based on factual information, I still believe it is a story of fanning a small spark to see if it becomes a fire.

The gist of Perdue’s assertions are based on the following items:

Gallo maintains that only the 2006 vintage of Red Bicyclette and only the Pinot Noir was compromised by fraudulent dealings in France.

A conviction is in place for the French parties who supplied Gallo.  Gallo is cooperating with U.S. authorities for what other proactive measures may be necessary as a result of their unwitting involvement in the varietal labeling fraud.

Perdue sought an answer on whether Gallo would also be recalling the 2008 Red Bicyclette Pinot Noir, and nobody responded to him.

Subsequent to those facts, Perdue goes into a lengthy dissection of Gallo public statements and the alleged truthfulness of the statements.

Here’s the problem I have with Perdue’s piece and the Red Bicyclette situation in general: 

1) Gallo is a victim of a significant hypocritical double-standard in the wine business.

2) Pinot Noir is notoriously difficult to produce inexpensively so the notion of what constitutes an $8 Pinot is already compromised by peer expectation

As industry members and enthusiasts, we celebrate the agricultural roots of the business, the ‘done on a handshake’ nature of business and trust, the fact that, somehow, the wine business has been immune to the inured corruption that is prevalent elsewhere.

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Yet, when one of our own is a victim of what, by all accounts, has been a violation of a trust we come out of the woodwork and start poking and prodding and demanding some sort of Brutus-like falling on the sword – to an extent that is above and beyond what is necessary, particularly when a mis-labeled wine is a victimless crime with no individual repercussions in the form of harm.

Gallo thinks that 2006 is the only wine that was mis-labeled (and through which the company was mislead).  The 2006’s have been removed from the market.  End of story. 

I’m no Gallo apologist, but I’ll go one step further and suggest that if the victim was any winery or wine company besides Gallo they would be receiving our closed rank sympathy and support not the dubious inquiry protected by the First Amendment.

For reasons I don’t understand, Gallo is the Empire to the rest of the wine business’ Rebel Alliance.

I purchased the 2007 and 2008 Red Bicyclette Pinot Noir and the 2005 Syrah to ensure I had my own baseline on the wines.  I purchased each of them for $7.99 at my local grocer.

In Perdue’s piece, he quotes a couple of online writers who sanctimoniously say, “It doesn’t taste like Pinot Noir as I know it.”  Yeah, no kidding.  Strawberries at the grocery store shipped in from Latin America don’t taste like u-pick strawberries, either. 

Allow me to clue these guys in – A lot of Pinot doesn’t taste like Pinot including a bunch of $30+ bottles from the Central Coast and most all Pinot Noir under $15.

To me, the Red Bicyclette Syrah has characteristics of French Syrah and it’s refreshingly non-manufactured tasting at this price point.

Similarly, the Pinot Noir has characteristics of Pinot Noir that costs $8, most of which has Syrah blended in anyway—including 7% Syrah in the ‘08.  Does the Red Bicyclette taste like an ethereal, light, delicate mystery that has provided orgasmic revelation – no, but then what do you expect when you buy a nationally distributed Pinot Noir at $8?

You expect exactly what you get – something that tastes like wine and is inoffensive. To me, the following is manifest truth related to Gallo:

Because no harm to the public is involved, Gallo is required to do exactly what they have to by virtue of the law – which they’ve done by removing the 2006’s from the market and cooperating with the appropriate authorities.

For $8 bucks, I wouldn’t be embarrassed to serve Red Bicyclette wine at a party

The fact that no consumer complained about a supposed lack of Pinot Noir-ishness says more about consumers of $8 wine then it does Gallo’s business practices

The only thing I require of a Pinot Noir in this price range is …

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This Month in Wine Advertising Pt II: King Estate

Earlier this week, I wrote about a rash of new wine advertising that appeared in current food and wine related magazines.  Always interested in the ways and means through which wineries communicate, I found a mixed bag of results based on several advertisers’ attempts.  For part II, with a little help from a guest professional, I’ll examine King Estate in Oregon’s Willamette Valley.

King Estate, started in 1991, is somewhere between a debutante and a doyenne, while clearly holding one of the tent poles for Oregon’s predominant winemaking region.

Based in the southern portion of the valley, their 175,000 cases of production come from a combination of estate (470 organically certified acres of vines) and sourced fruit, with a focus on the Oregon varietal stalwarts, Pinot Noir and Pinot Gris.

In an interview with Sasha Kadey, Marketing and Public Relations Manager at King Estate, he emphasized King Estate’s maniacal focus on being stewards of the land … of allowing the circle of life and sustainability to be more than lip service.  In fact, throughout my interview, the dual themes of organic and sustainability coupled with leadership for the Oregon wine industry came through enough times to indicate that for King Estate destiny is partly creating their present reality and then cutting through the thicket of modern commerce as responsibly as possible on the way to their destination.  Case in point:  they participate in an ancillary program like the “Salmon Safe” certification because their 1033 acres sit at the headwaters of the Siuslaw River with an on-property spring that feeds the river.  This is also the focus of one of their advertisements.

Paul Dolan would be proud.

Kadey said in regards to their advertising, “When a winery is in a ‘leadership’ role for its region or varietal category, it is something of a necessity to advertise… we are somewhat aided by the truly dismal quality of most cliché driven wine advertising – which makes it not so difficult to stand out and be a little disruptive.”

Touché.

Kadey continued, “(Owner) Ed King and I developed the ad concepts, copy and layout.  The concepts are really ways of expressing sentiments and philosophical stances … we lamented the fact that organic agriculture is treated as a hippy-fueled pseudo-science while chemical farming is referred to as ‘conventional.’

This background on King Estate, for me, adds significant inflection on their advertising work which is focused on two current key messages (organic farming and salmon safe farming) with a third piece of messaging around nature conservancy in development.

Our guest expert examining the advertising with me is Fred Schwartz from Fred & Company, a Sonoma resident, Schwartz is a brand and marketing expert who served as creative director for several leading advertising agencies before founding his own shop.  Later acquired by WPP, a significant holding company in the agency vertical, Fred now runs Fred & Company, a consultancy to the wine trade, providing strategy and tactics for marketing and sales.

King Estate Ad #1

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Full Size PDF version:
King Estate Ad #1

As Seen in: Wine & Spirits Magazine

Goat or Gloat?
This is some of most thoughtfully produced advertising you’re likely to see come out of the wine industry.  Fantastic visual!  But, I have to channel an advertising prof. from college when he said, “Who do you think is the smartest person in this room?  Of course, each of you think you’re the smartest person in the room.  Therefore, create advertising for somebody that is dumber than you.  Cleverness kills.”

I would make one small copy change to this ad in order to NOT make it too clever—Instead of saying, “We owe the future” which is kind of passive and muddy, I would add supporting copy that says, “Since 1991 we’ve been making up for the previous 46 years.”  Or something to that effect, and then I’d move the tag, “We owe the future” to the bottom left. 

Overall, a skilled ad and worthy of award relative to their wine industry peers.

What Fred Says:

Overall, these are among the best the wine industry has to offer.  If that sounds like a back-handed compliment, it is.  While the art direction is rather traditional, the art is well conceived.  These ads will get read.

What intrigues me is the positioning line that appears next to the brand name:  oregon wines.  What’s going on here?  Is Oregon a winemaking badge for something in particular?  Does King Estate assume that readers won’t recognize their home AVA?  Is this a grab at trying to appear larger, more dominant or truer?  What?

The body copy holds some clues.  The “roots” ad tells us the winery is “family owned and independent,” which I take as proxies for “Honest, Fair, and Principled.”  Principled enough to note, in small-ish type, that the fruit they purchase is sustainably farmed—a step down from their organic soapbox.

King Estate Ad #2

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Full size PDF version:
King Estate Ad #2

As Seen in:  Mutineer

Goat or Gloat?
Similar to Ad #1, the match between the headline and the sub-head is just a bit too clever for my taste.  I don’t want to have to think too hard and when you get into “legacies” and “owing the future,” I have to think too much.  Instead, I would add supporting, elaborative copy and move the tag, “We owe the future” to the bottom left.

What Fred Says
The “fish” ad goes further in defining Organic, noting not just the absence of pesticides and herbicides, but water, too.  These folks are serious!

The Last Word from Sasha at King Estate:

“The goal of the advertising isn’t just to sell more King Estate wine or increase brand awareness, but to increase awareness of the message itself.  We want to ‘thought provoke,’ and hopefully activate an existing consciousness or sub-consciousness about these issues, in hopes that we can actually encourage real change in the way people think about organics, water pollution, and nature/wildlife conservation and other things that affect the environment.  We spend same money for our ad placements as other wineries that seem to be happy to settle for just using page to put a picture of a bottle in front of consumers with no meaningful message.  if nothing else we match them in our efforts to put our products in front of people, and if the messaging registers with someone, then that is gravy on top, a clear net positive over the status quo.

‘We Owe the future’ as a tagline also came about after much though ... at the time we were developing the ads, a hot topic for Americans was the idea of ‘mortgaging our future,” leaving behind debts for future generations - whether they be economical (deficit) or environmental ... we wanted to take that common phraseology, and turn it on its head.  ‘We owe the future,’ they don’t owe us ... we have benefited from past generations that felt that way in so many ways, so we should keep paying it forward.  Of course the ‘we’ is not ‘King Estate’ but ‘we’ as a society and civilization—the collective we.”

What do you think about the state of wine advertising and these ads?  Have your say in the comments!


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News, Notes and Dusty Bottle Items – A Finer Point Edition

…Flotsam and jetsam that doesn’t fit into a blog post by itself…

A Finer Point

“Upcycling” (a word du jour for sure) basically takes something that would otherwise be thrown away and turns it into something new and useful.

Over the past two weeks I’ve mentioned both glass cutting and wine vinegar within the context of a post.  A quick glance at spring lifestyle catalogs (like Michael Chiarello’s Napa Style) show candle hurricanes repurposed from large format wine bottles (at profit rich prices, too).  And, I recently mentioned creating red and white wine vinegar from leftover wine.  For the DIY-curious, I’m providing links for how to do both at home (both are stupid simple and highly recommended).

Creating glasses from wine bottles (same technique different cut for a wine bottle hurricane lamp)
Making wine vinegar
Where to buy a vinegar mother

Anecdotal or Actual?

I gave a presentation for work recently and the client asked me if the statement I had just made was a statement of fact or anecdotal.  I said it was a statement of fact from research I didn’t have with me.  She didn’t press me on the subject, but the reality is, in hindsight, I was offering opinion – something that I took to be so obvious as to be fact.  The client, apparently, disagreed.

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Much of wine blogging is like this.  We all consume so much information that we regurgitate something that we’ve subsumed and synthesized and then proffer it up as a statement of fact, regardless of whether it’s actually true or not and regardless of whether we have a source to cite.

With this as context, one thing I’m weary of is this ongoing mainstream media v. online media story.  Depending on which side of the situation you’re on you might think the meteorite is heading for every paid dinosaur journalist as they laze in the valley chomping grass unaware of their imminent fate or, conversely, that every online writer is a loser and hack plagiarizing Wikipedia whilst Oprah drones on in the background.

Neither is true.

Just for fun and facts, anybody that wants the truth about the state of Journalism (the good, the bad and the ugly) should check out the Pew Project for Excellence in Journalism and the 2010 State of the News Media.  There are a bunch of facts here that put all media into context – magazines, newspapers, online, TV and more.  It’s an incredible resource of information and should be a go-to resource before anybody makes another dubious comment masquerading as fact. 

The Winery Insider

You’ll probably see PR for a new wine service that just launched called the Winery Insider.

The Winery Insider is another in a lengthy list of what I call “pumpkin” web sites – as in, buy the wine today before midnight or the chariot (wine) will turn into a pumpkin.

The Winery Insider doesn’t look too much different from similar companies – Wine.Woot, Wine Spies, Vaynerchuk’s Cinderella Wine and a slew of others, though it may have more luxurious leanings.

Putting these sites within a very immediate wine perspective isn’t difficult, but if you’re interested in getting a much broader view on this short-term deep discount business model, New York magazine has an exemplary profile of the pioneer in this business model, Gilt Groupe (who also occasionally features wine).

Reading this article will arm you with a very solid conceptual understanding of these businesses and, perhaps, the challenges to their growth.

Biodegradable Wine Bottles?

Plastic wine bottles are still very much in their infancy, but are being touted for their aid in reducing a carbon footprint.

Something I’ve been keeping my eye on, which may usurp PET plastic wine bottles before they even get on track, is a completely biodegradable plastic bottle made from corn by-products.  The Ingeo polymer is 100% recyclable, compostable and biodegradable. 

Bottled water and other products are emerging and using this technology.  An organic or Biodynamic wine can’t be too far away.

Karen MacNeil

While various wine personalities get whacked from the wine crowd with some regularity, one person that is universally respected and admired, in my opinion, is Karen MacNeil.

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From her post as the Chair of the Rudd Center for Professional Wine Studies at CIA in St. Helena, she commands a reverence that is reserved for indefatigable captains of industry.

I tend to gobble up most of what she writes trying to parse and glean some insight like a Warren Buffet acolyte.

In the most recent issue of Sommelier Journal she has a column in which she expands upon the eight qualities that she believes make a great wine.

We already know from Lettie Teague and Food & Wine magazine that the Rudd Center teaches the “BAT AFF” acronym for objective wine analysis:

• Body
• Acid
• Texture
• Aroma
• Flavor
• Finish

Adding to this is MacNeil’s qualifying criteria for beauty in the bottle:

• Distinctiveness
• Balance
• Precision
• Complexity
• Length
• The Fifth Dimension (that certain indescribable ‘something’)
• Connectedness (the embodiment of a place)
• Ability to evoke an emotional response (makes us ‘feel’)

Some might say that MacNeil’s benchmarks for a “great” wine are a little overwrought.  To me, however, it’s as fine a list as any to for a holistic view of a wine.  Methinks that as the anti-points crowd continues to develop, a standard-bearing template for the combination of objective and subjective review is likely in the offing.  The BAT AFF and Karen MacNeil criterion strikes me as a very good place to start.


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