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Clos du Val’s Declaration of Vindependence:  Online Wine Marketing Pt. II of II

In part one of my review of online wine marketing programs that work I examined Conway Family Wines Facebook advertising program.  Part two brings us Clos du Val winery and their “Vindependence” campaign, an effort conducted with proactive vigor, and the same goal of connecting with consumers, building a direct-to-consumer contact list and driving sales.

Launched on July 14th, coinciding with Bastille Day, the French day of independence celebrating the start of the French Revolution, the Clos du Val “Vindepence” campaign pays homage to Bastille Day while bringing together consumers to celebrate independent thought.

Quoting Tracey Mason, Vice-President of Marketing at Clos du Val, in their launch press release:

“…the winery wants people to realize once and for all that principles matter. ‘Passing trends or outside influences should never be the driving force behind an action—it’s all about marching to the beat of your own drum. Discovery and the sharing of those discoveries with friends is all part of the process of Vindependence. We know that we make our wines in the way we think we should and in the way we think our consumers will enjoy them best. Now, we ask for their feedback, to find out what they think,’ she said.”


The program, at its core, is an effort to have consumers make a public declaration of their independent thought, regardless of the thoughts of others, this could be related to wine, but is also left open to interpretation. 

The declaration notes, “When, in the course of events, it becomes necessary to stand up for what you believe in, to bravely swim against the tide, to do what you think is right even if it is contrary to the opinions of others, to not allow yourself to be swayed, bullied or bargained with … at Clos Du Val, we hold these truths to be self-evident, that our commitment to such principles is at the very foundation of all we do and all we have done since our founding in 1972. That to manipulate these principles in a manner inconsistent with our dedication to balance, elegance and grace would demonstrate a lack of respect for each other, our vineyards and our consumers.” 

Promoting joie de vivre iconoclasm is a neat trick and particularly relevant in our Tea Party political climate.  Clos du Val has pulled off a way to have consumers champion an abstract concept while also presenting a subtle reinforcement of Clos du Val’s value proposition of classic wine style and winemaking, eschewing modern trends and the hegemony of powerful palates.

That’s the big picture.

For full context, the gist of the program is best enumerated in bullet form as there are a number of elements that all work together in one of the most synergistic campaign efforts I’ve seen in the wine business.  This should come as no surprise given that Mason is a veteran wine industry marketer with a long list of accomplishments not the least of which is creating incredible mindshare for the WinePod, an expensive small lot winemaking technology for consumers and micro vintners, her gig with ProVina prior to joining Clos du Val and parent company Goelet Wine estates.


Elements of the Vindependence campaign include:

Personal email to bloggers from PR agency one day prior to campaign launch

Email of press release from same PR agency on day of launch

Press release distribution to online news sites

A microsite at
- Submit your “declaration” of independent thought (requires name and email)
- By signing up consumers receive a 15% discount on Clos du Val wine purchases through the end of the year
- Submit a Clod du Val wine review (requires name, mailing address and email)
- Submitters of a review have opportunity have review on POS materials at retail

A Facebook Fan page with custom graphics supporting the Vindependence campaign

A “signable” Vindependence presence at the winery and tasting room, tying in the online campaign offline

A two month “progress report” press release in mid-September giving continual lift to the campaign

The results?  According to the progress press release, more than 3,000 people have declared their “Vindependence” at Facebook or the web site.  In an interview I conducted with Mason she noted, “In fewer than (two) months, we have more than doubled our mailing list, we have seen significant growth in visitors to the winery and our DTC sales have increased about 10 (times) vs. (the) same period year.”

Not bad.


What’s interesting to me is how a simple idea, well executed, doesn’t have to cost a lot of money to produce results.  The microsite is inexpensive, and integrates into the same database that governs their web site sales and customer relationship management.  The Facebook page costs next to nothing, as well.  Really, the only cost out of pocket for Clos du Val is the cost of the project with the PR agencies, which, for all practical purposes can be replaced with an account at PR Newswire and some due diligence.

According to Mason, all visuals, wordsmithing, and concepting were conceived at the winery in an ongoing effort to support direct-to-consumer sales.

What’s next for Clos du Val?  A Facebook-centric effort, within the same “Vindependence” campaign, will launch in October, promising, “Consumers will really respond to (this) and (it will be an effort) that will lay the foundation for our (social media) efforts moving forward … as always, it’s going to be cool, relevant and, Vindependent in nature,” said Mason.

The takeaway?  Winners try. 

I hope by illustrating Conway Family Wines and Clos du Val, the point is made that marketing efforts that can help a winery build relationships with customers using online efforts need not be expensive, difficult or scary.  More often than not, a good idea, well integrated and executed can have significant, measurable results.

In addition, kudos to Clos du Val for embracing the fact that “brand” relationships are two-way and that marketing outside the vein of “lifestyle” is not a bad thing.

Links for Reference

Vindependence microsite

Clos du Val / Vindependence Facebook page

Press release #1

Press release #2


Online Wine Marketing with Conway Family Wines Pt. I of II

A recent Wines & Vines article had me scratching my head in ponderous wonderment.  While I admire Pilot Peak winery in the Sierra Foothills for their participation in a reality television that led to an increase in their wine club signups by 50%, I have to wonder if their success is something to emulate for other wineries.

Unfortunately, in my opinion, the answer is a resounding, “No”—a “lightening in the bottle” public relations coup does not make for sustainable success, nor a case study for that matter. 

Now, to be fair, a good story must have a human-interest element to it, which the Wines & Vines article has. In addition, getting a winery to go on record about a successful and PLANNED marketing program is as difficult as, say, getting KFC to turn over their recipe for 11 herbs and spices.  Case in point, Duane Hoff, owner of Fantesca, mentioned in a marketing story on this site in May, declined to divulge any details about his Google Adwords marketing program on several occasions, pat theoreticals standing in for any substantive information.  So, it may be that a television production featuring a winery makes for good story fodder, absent emulatable results, and that’s good enough. 


However, focusing on and SHARING actual, sustainable marketing tactics that lead to results is something that IS needed in the domestic wine business – if for no other reason than the fact that success breeds confidence and confidence breed’s innovation. 

If a winery sees other wineries doing something well in the ultimate industry parlor game of, “Show me, don’t tell me” then we could begin to see a wave of proactivity (and coloring outside the lines of the standard marketing playbook) as others gain the confidence to try their own hand at success, appearances on Lifetime TV notwithstanding.

Instead of glorifying marketing moxie and luck, which the domestic wine business clings to like a woobie, I am going to focus on two wineries and their online wine marketing campaigns that have shown Smith Barney-like results by increasing their mailing list, sales and mindshare the old-fashioned way, by earning it.


In the first of two parts, we start with Conway Family Wines in the Arroyo Grande Valley AVA in San Luis Obispo County, California.

A family-owned business started in 2007 with the purchase of the Rancho Arroyo Grande Vineyards; Conway Family Wines have scaled production to 30,000 cases around two labels: Deep Sea and the eponymous vineyard estate wines.  Deep Sea is sourced from maritime influenced vineyards on the Central Coast.

Primarily run by the youngest generation of Conway’s, the five children of Chris and Ann Conway, I spoke with Gillian, VP of Communications, to learn more about their Facebook marketing program, an initiative I was tipped off to by ubiquitous, but discreet advertising on Facebook.

According to Conway, the Facebook advertising program developed very organically.  First, upon graduation from Emerson College in 2007, Facebook was a means for Conway to update friends and family on the happenings at the winery.  Then, as Fan pages developed it was a means to connect with customers of the winery in a one-to-one way.  Finally, as Facebook introduced advertising, Facebook became an opportunity to create personalized awareness of Deep Sea and Conway Family Wines to wine enthusiasts on the social networking site, potentially converting the wine-interested into customers.

And, perhaps speaking to the generational shifts that are occurring in wine marketing, Conway notes, “We’re a young winery that is run by young people.  We are used to being marketed –to online.  I guess the old way of wine marketing was to have a tasting room, attend the big consumer tastings and hope for great scores.”  That works for some, but not all wineries.  “Online marketing and outreach (is) the best way to reach wine drinkers, and introduce ourselves to the world,” Conway noted.

According to Conway, “We aren’t spending a ridiculous amount for our Facebook ads, that’s one of the things that is so great about them (and) we are able to maximize everything Facebook offers in terms of ads, mailing list sign up’s, offers, etc. while still having a relationship with our friends and fans.”


The mechanics of the program are simple: 

Cost-per-click advertising on Facebook that are served to people who have self-identified an interest around keywords like, “wine” with a daily budget that is set by Conway ($5)

Conway is running two sets of ads on Facebook – one links to a page on their web site with a 10% discount offer for those who sign-up for their email list and another is a September only offer for 30% off the Deep Sea red, also tracked via a page on their web site (see here and here).

The results, however, are staggering.  Conway said, “ … It’s a long road to building a huge customer base online, especially for a new winery.” 

Yet, in just a couple week period of time, with a daily budget of $5 (which has never been exceeded) and an average daily cost of .50 cents based on the number of clicks, Conway Family Wines has received over 2.5 million impressions and 800 clicks to their web site and the offers.  While declining to offer specifics, she said, “A large percentage of those clicks turn into sales on our web site.  It’s very easy to track.”

And, very easy to see a return on investment.

She continued in reference to their Deep Sea Facebook Fan page, “The Deep Sea page went from being something I occasionally updated to being a proactive method of reaching wine lovers, gaining fans, spreading the word and ultimately selling wine.”


The takeaway for other wineries?  Steal this idea.

An hour of time and a non-technical layperson can have a campaign up and running on Facebook (more details here).  And, the bonus is Facebook can integrate into an existing winery customer database.  Said Conway, “There are ways to link your website email sign-ups with your Facebook email sign ups.  So, if you join our mailing list on Facebook, it automatically joins you in our consumer database which is linked to our web site.  The promotion code on Facebook automatically syncs with our web site if you enter your email and want to place an order.”

The final takeaway?  “We’re dedicated to creating a discussion and interacting on a more personal level with our fans through Facebook … we will start to run special offers, and giveaways for our Facebook fans only … DTC is the Holy Grail of selling wine – it’s the best way to communicate with your customers because there is no third-party between you, and the winery benefits the most in terms of sales margins.”

Amen.  And, a double “Amen” if Facebook can help a winery achieve those DTC results.

In Part II of this post, I’ll examine a different tactic, with similar positive results from Clos du Val.

Links for Reference

Conway Family Wines / Deep Sea Wines Landing Page #1

Conway Family Wines / Deep Sea Wines Landing Page #2

Deep Sea Wines Facebook Fan Page

Information on Facebook Advertising


News, Notes and Dusty Bottle Items – Observations and Updates Edition

Odds and ends from a life lived through the prism of the wine glass …

Everybody’s in the Online Wine Media Pool.  Now What? *Update*

Last week I wrote a post about the abundance of great wine writing online while wondering who was reading it. 

As if on cue, research released from eMarketer, a technology marketing research company, indicates that blog readership will continue to increase over the coming three years projecting that 60% of internet users will read blogs at least once per month in 2014, up from 51% now.  The report also noted, “One reason for the rise in readership is that blogs have become an accepted part of the online media landscape.”

There you go.  Online wine media readership will grow accordingly and probably more so given the continued and growing mindshare about wine.


Speaking of online wine media …  It used to be that members of mainstream wine media both rebuked and jabbed online wine writer’s for a sense of narcissistic self-worth that wasn’t deserving.  Fair enough.  However, a short time later when, yes, everybody is in the online wine media pool, you have to scratch your head at the current irony… 

I’m not stating the following as an indictment against any one person.  It’s merely an observation:  the sniping that I’ve seen lately from “professional” wine writers against their peers, other professional wine writers, is troubling and unbecoming (Ex: here and here and yes I realize the hypocrisy in even pointing it out).

The Business of the Business

The annual Wine Industry Financial Symposium was held in Napa earlier this week.  Robert Smiley, Director of Wine Studies, Graduate School of Management, UC Davis gave a presentation, the contents of which are available online.  Smiley surveyed a who’s who of senior executives in the wine business and some of the takeaways from the presentation are worth noting, giving insight into the really big trends that are impacting the wine business (responses from survey participants were anonymously presented in the presentation and provided here as excerpted quotes):

“I personally believe there is going to be a permanent re-pricing of wine.”

“I think the volume of the luxury market became overweight and irrational.  I think the category just got bigger and collapsed under its own weight.  It was all tied to an irrational economy.”

In reference to the Wall Street crash, “There were the guys who were buying the wine … I think that we have lost a third of the buyers.”

“… It seems we have shifted from aspirational buyers to value buyers.”

“Retailers have discovered that they want to control their own brand … I would say, on average, US retailers have 7-10% private label, but you also have a lot of major retailers say, ‘I want to be in the 20-30% range.’”

In reference to consolidation in distribution, “These guys just have way too much to sell.  I think consolidation is a terrible threat for almost any winery.  I don’t even think Diageo feels like they get enough share of mind.”

“Some respondents believe that distributor consolidation will open up new opportunities for niche distributors to cater to the higher-end brands.”

“… it is going to be a challenge for the industry in terms of grape supply.  We are definitely heading for a shortage.”  “I think (the shortage will be filled) by more imports.” “We could be in a position where we lose another 10-15% to imports.”

Aside from the trends above – continued compression on luxury wine pricing, the long-term value buyer, private label at retail, consolidation in the three-tier, and growing importation of wine for domestic labels, I also noted that Ray Chadwick, EVP at Young’s Market (a distributor), spoke on a separate panel regarding the competitive landscape in wine and consolidation in the three-tier system.

If you want to see the second set of trends related to the wine business, one need look no further than the director/advisory positions that Chadwick has secured over the last twelve months – he’s a Director for IBG (logistics for DTC and Direct-to-Trade) and for the Wine Business Management program at Sonoma State University. 

Wine trends for the next decade and beyond continue to point towards globalization, big business and near impossible pressure on the small producer. I am seeing trends from small producers to combat this, including an increase in “velocity labels” a lower-priced, but still luxury priced wine that is a sort of a hybrid between a second label and flagship wines.  I will cover this in a separate post shortly.

Facebook eCommerce

Recently, I wondered why a young winery or wine brand would even build their own web site when they could do a Facebook Fan page with embedded ecommerce. 

I’m at a digital marketing conference this week and saw a Facebook ecommerce application called “Off the Wall.”  If I were a small winery interested in ramping up DTC, I would pay close attention to online sales via Facebook. 

Interstate Importing *Update*

Last week, I wrote a post about the rise of a new class of wine business that acts as a sales and marketing agency for small producers, essentially leaving a winery in the business of growing grapes and making wine while the front-of-the house activities are handled by agreement with an aligned third party.

Several examples abound of this emerging class of business.

Since I wrote that story, I was tipped off to a business called Flow Wine Group based in Chicago.  Flow is another example of this emerging class of business with services focused on selling, sampling, promotion, events and distributor account management.

Another example I failed to cite in my previous post is Pelican Brands led by wine industry veteran and fellow Indianapolis resident, Smoke Wallin.

Their approach is similar to other business models I’ve described – generate mindshare and consumer demand, get the product to market via an effective distribution solution, and support brand building over the long-term.  My overall point in bringing both of these examples up as an augmentation to my post last week is to reinforce that the times are changing quickly and radically and the signposts are there to see. 


An Interview with the Hottest Design Shop in the Wine Business:  Proof Wine Collective

In the realm of the thousands of providers who support the domestic wine industry, label designers hold a high place of esteem despite being under-acknowledged and under-appreciated. However, one young, hot design shop in San Luis Obispo is changing that, bringing progressive label design to the forefront of the industry, and starting a revolution in the process.

Started by twentysomething business partners Josh McFadden and Philip Muzzy, Proof Wine Collective is proving that the story of a winery doesn’t necessarily have to equate to a staid label.  In doing so, they’re also bringing attention to the fact that, ultimately, a well-crafted label isn’t merely a piece of a wine brand, it is the brand.  A well-crafted label is the portal through which a wine consumer, who may never visit the winery or its web site, transposes their feelings on the wine and their future affinity for the winery.

Like all good accidental entrepreneurial stories, Proof Wine Collective has a good one, as well.  Working harvest in the Central Coast a mere three years ago, McFadden found himself assisting a number of upstart wine companies on matters of marketing and design and before he knew it, instead of being a harvest intern, he was an owner of a design business serving those same upstarts.  Muzzy joined him as partner in crime.  The name of the business pays homage to the quid pro quo relationship the business has with several of the wineries.  Muzzy says, “Our Collective Winery members hold a special position to our business. Proof began in order to support producers like them, we currently have seven: Alta Maria, Sans Liege, Folkway, Autonom, Herman Story, Field Recordings, and Native9 ... one for every day of the week ...

They were our first clients, now they’re something different. They are our brothers, our advisors, our mentors; our alter egos if we made wine. Our business started to help out these legit producers who are the underdogs of the industry: small, underfunded owner/operators. They were grocery store clerks and farm hands. They are the Young Turks of the wine industry ...”

I caught up with Proof partner Philip (the rapper to co-partner Josh’s DJ’ing) for an interview.  It’s a long read, but well worth it to get a keener glimpse into the sensibility (and the creative process) that is upending the business of wine label design.  Plus, Josh and Philip are exceedingly bright guys, the kind of young, smart guys you root for because they have a vision for their work that takes most other people decades to develop. 


Readers who are interested in following wine packaging trends more closely should visit a newly launched blog that is dedicated to the art of wine packaging—an offshoot of the most popular packaging design site on the Internet (The Dieline), The Dieline Wine features the best wine packaging the industry has to offer with regular contributions from the guys at Proof.

A compendium of Proof work caps our interview.


Good Grape:  Tell me about the collaboration with the Dieline Wine packaging blog.  How did that come about and what do you hope to contribute?

Philip Muzzy / Proof Wine Collective:  The editor of The Dieline, Andrew Gibbs, found Proof through a mutual friend and posted our work something like 16 times in one day.  A week or so later Andrew told me about The Dieline Wine and asked if Proof might be interested in writing some articles. We decided that this would be the perfect way to share our unique perspective with the rest of the world.

We believe there are far too many disconnected elements between the design industry and the wine industry. We are some of the few people who are in a position to see this and we feel it is our responsibility to do something about it. We hope that by contributing to the Dieline Wine we will have the opportunity to educate the design industry on the basics of the wine industry and vice versa. This is important because real design isn’t about a fancy picture, market trends or something that looks good on a computer screen.  It is about an experience—a moment—that a person shares with the thing they hold and see and smell and feel. It’s about conveying emotion and giving that person a reason to get excited about the experience. We believe that once the design and wine industries understand this, there will be an abundance of new ideas and an urge to apply creativity to every part of the process.

Good Grape:  I view Proof Wine Collective as cultural anthropologists that create something that visually resonates with people.  Is that a fair statement to you?

Philip Muzzy / Proof Wine Collective:  As consumers of culture we believe that where things come from matters; history matters. Our goal is not just to sell a story but also to help people explore the story on their own. We don’t derive our inspiration from market analysis and reports but from our own experience as wine buyers, as wine drinkers, as winemakers and wine sellers, because we’ve been in every one of those positions.

Good Grape:  Do you find clients “get” the design samples that you initially present to them after it goes through the Proof blender of ideation?

Philip Muzzy / Proof Wine Collective:  We honestly don’t show clients a lot of (work-in-progress) and we don’t ask them to direct the work while it’s in progress. It was a struggle at first to have them trust us, but now that we’ve had some successes, it’s a lot easier.  Keeping the client out of the design process is important because they’re coming to us with a problem that they’ve been unable to solve.  We go wherever the problem leads in order to solve it. The more they try to tell us about the problem and about what they’re looking for, the more everything will dead end. 

Our creative process doesn’t start until we believe that we understand the client. We deconstruct who they are: their dreams, winemaking philosophy, personal history, what the wines they make say, and where they fit in the marketplace. We find allegories to their story and these truths guide our direction, in this way we ensure that what we create is an honest extension of our client, even if it’s not what they imagined.

We don’t want to show them a design until we believe it’s finished; and it’s not finished unless we believe that the package, story and wine align.  Once we present them with an idea and we’re behind it, very few changes are made—if any.

Good Grape:  Where do you draw the line with clients – that balance of fighting for the vision and not compromising for “safe” and “the client is always right.”

Philip Muzzy / Proof Wine Collective:  When we started out, people called us arrogant. We were young, outspoken, and had very high standards. For the most part we remain all these things, but people don’t seem to mind it, now that they know our ideas work. We’ve always been very selective about the wineries we work with. We have to believe in our clients and they have to believe in us. We’ll give almost anyone a meeting, listen to their story, and give advice if we think it might help, but we only take on clients with whom we feel we can build that fundamental trust. Compromise is an easy solution for two parties that don’t know how to speak one another’s language.  In the end, we’re looking for clients who respect all the work we put into what we do and are willing to push the limits. 

Good Grape:  You do most of your work out of the Central Coast, a relatively new wine making region, where you’re pushing the progressive envelope.  Thoughts on that progressiveness relative to Sonoma and Napa, more mature wine regions?

Philip Muzzy / Proof Wine Collective:  All design is beholden to its context. While it’s true that the Central Coast gives us some leeway, if the question was, “If Proof were in Napa would what we do look the same,” that answer would be no. We’re not in the business of making things crazy, but we’re also not into being safe. We’re about making things that are appropriate and unexpected. Our clients have flexibility and that allows us to have flexibility. (In correspondence) You termed our designs as “fresh” and “edgy” and that’s part and parcel of the wines we work with and their appellations. In Napa, Proof would still be “fresh” but would feel familiar in a different way.

Good Grape:  Do you consider the art aspect and permanence of a bottle after drinking, aside from the pull of a good label on the shelf?

Philip Muzzy / Proof Wine Collective:  Wine itself has permanence.  A wine must be able to maintain constant relevance because it could potentially be consumed in 20 years. This is a part of the culture of wine, that it’s about sharing a moment of history. It’s like Mouton Rothschild, by featuring a different world-famous artist on their label every year they’re saying: “every vintage of our wine is a unique expression of our history, and this is the level of experience you should expect from what we’ve made.” They’ve been able to maintain a permanence and relevance not simply because of their first growth status, but also because they’re able to deliver on that promise. We approach the work that we do with a similar level of seriousness and far-sightedness. We are always looking to make a lasting impression and work with producers that we believe can deliver that as well. It is the coming together of experience and expectation into a surprising new whole that makes a bottle art, and not the package alone.

Good Grape:  Like an artist, do you feel like your body of work says “something?”  Do you want it to speak to somebody as a statement or an evolution?

Philip Muzzy / Proof Wine Collective:  We think of our work as an evolution.  We approach every project with special attention on empathy for the end consumer. For instance, take $5 wines. A lot of our friends drink cheap wine and sometimes we do too. When Proof was starting, we never thought we’d be making labels for $5 wines. Yet we do it today because novice wine drinkers and price sensitive consumers are so marginalized by the industry at large. These consumers need advocates working inside the system; we hope to be those advocates. As Proof continues to evolve, we are actively seeking out these sympathy gaps in the industry and trying to fix them. 

Good Grape:  In the pantheon of design what’s more important to you – striking visual or typography?

Philip Muzzy / Proof Wine Collective:  We respect both schools of thought. We switch back and forth depending on the needs of the project. Neither visuals nor typography can give you everything you need, and neither is fundamentally necessary to tell a story (for instance Chapoutier’s use of braille on his labels). The most important part of design is communicating a message in a way that incites action and frames an experience. That should be done by any means possible. 

Good Grape:  Thanks for taking the time to chat guys.  Your work is really fresh.  Keep on pushing boundaries. 


The Entrepreneurial Spirit:  Muehlhausen Glass

Perhaps it is no coincidence that I love technology start-up’s (both working in them and watching others develop) alongside my passion for wine – both are, typically, small businesses imbued with an infectious, “we can change the world” entrepreneurial enthusiasm.

Regardless of whether it’s a business trying to make a difference in a neighborhood, a technology company trying to change the way we work and play, or a winery or wine-related company that has enough moxie to think that doing something differently can strike a chord, there’s a lot to admire about people who are willing to fail in their quest for success.

No disrespect to denizens of Corporate America, but I’ve found a different joie de vivre and a commitment to “living life out loud” with those brave souls who forsake relative security for the challenge of creating something from nothing.

Given that context, I’m starting a periodic series of posts focusing on upstarts in the wine business.  These “focus” stories won’t typically be about wineries, but rather ancillary businesses in and around the enjoyment of wine.  These are usually people that love wine and want to pursue their passion, but they are also people for whom the entrepreneurial call doesn’t beckon towards the vineyard.


We start the series off with Meuhlhausen Glass, owned by glass artisan Ryan Muehlhausen and assisted by his Uncle, Steve Thompson.  Muehlhausen lives and works on Lummi Island, a small island in the San Juan Islands off the coast of Washington state, equidistance between Vancouver, CA and Seattle and known for their arts community.  There, Meuhlhausen launched a Sommelier wine glass, amongst his other work with functional glass as objet d’art.

Each wine tumbler, similar in style to the Riedel “O” series, is hand blown using borosilicate glass (think impact resistant Pyrex measuring cup glass) worked to a thinness appropriate for a wine glass.  Each glass, using a technique developed by Meuhlhausen, has subtle striations (called micro-aeration™), in the interior of the glass to aid aeration and development of the bouquet for the wine.

Originally conceived as a one-off gift for Uncle Steve, a wine lover, designer and brand consultant living in Santa Barbara, California, both soon saw greater possibilities for the unique glass and the technique of putting ridges on the interior of the glass.

A web site, RMHglass, and a trademark for “micro-aeration” was soon borne to bring the unique, one-of-kind wine glasses to market.

Of course, it’s not a start-up story without some hardship.  The first challenge is the obvious – the glass is handmade, each taking an hour to make.  Muehlhausen developed a technique to create the aerating striations, and the experience, time and craft involved to create each piece is reflected in the price—$40 per glass.  While this is significantly less expensive than the Riedel Sommelier glass series (and without the reputation, as well), Meuhlhausen’s ability to produce a quantity of glasses is humble and the price reflects the handmade nature.

And, while other glassmakers tout “hand-blown,” the Muehlhausen is truly a no-mold glass with no mass manufacturing process.  Each glass is a handcrafted, artisan work of art.  According to Muehlhausen, “Production is never easy.  Making sure that glasses are consistent without giving them a machine made look is challenging.  But the challenge is part of producing a product that is both appealing and unique.”

This artisan effort, and the notion of a glass made from borosilicate instead of crystal – without a stem—is in conflict with the notion of it being a tasting glass for Sommeliers and wine professionals.  No stem, no crystal, and a technical innovation not corroborated with clinical testing nor marketing like what Riedel can provide creates an educational battle in both mindshare and understanding with cynical trade veterans.

Learning from their mistakes and honing their craft, both Muehlhausen and Thompson are listening and adjusting.

According to Thompson, the business lead for the duo, the Muehlhausen tumbler seems to resonant as a luxury wine product, a special occasion glass for that special bottle with wine enthusiasts.  Given that adjustment for consumer positioning instead of the trade, the glass needs a stem for connoisseurs equally set in their ways, which Muehlhausen will be adding for a launch with luxury wine products company, Image of Wine, this fall.

Scheduled for release in time for the holiday season, Image of Wine will carry the revamped stemmed Muehlhausen glass for wine lovers who appreciate the nature of one of a kind piece of art with their vino.

Certainly, it’s very early in the story of the development of Muehlhausen Glass. Ryan is very much an artist, doing his work for the love of it and the meaning that is gained by creating art that is appreciated by its eventual owner.  He notes, “These glasses are carefully hand crafted and intended to be both functional and fun.  I hope that people enjoy drinking out of them as much as I enjoy making them. The stemless micro-aeration glass is just the beginning for us so be sure to look for additional glasses coming in the future.”

Wine enthusiasts think nothing of buying a $40 bottle of wine.  Next time you pull the cork on a nice bottle, plan ahead of time and also enjoy that one-of-a-kind wine with a one-of-kind glass, supporting two different types of wine-related artistic craftsmen in the process.

Thompson, the more ardent wine lover of the two, recommends the following Central Coast wineries:
Terry Hoage Vineyards
Tre Anelli


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