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A Mixed Case Sampler:  The Wines from Rex Pickett’s Vertical

After earnest (albeit sporadic) reading since early December, I finished Vertical, Rex Pickett’s book sequel to Sideways, this past week. To say it’s a wine-soaked Bacchanalian romp is an understatement akin to saying Screaming Eagle wine is “kind of” expensive. 

While I won’t review the book formally because I don’t possess the bona fides to critique fiction, suffice to say that “ambivalence” is how I would describe my feelings about it.  However, in that ambivalence I should note that I’m going to read it again – I’m just persnickety enough that I can’t invest time in something without walking away with a definitive opinion.  A re-read on my part should give the impression that my initial take is leaning towards, “Glass half full.”

Vertical leaves a couple of doors open for a third book to round out a trilogy, and like other sequels that try to capture lightening in a bottle (no pun intended) a second time, the story does amp up Miles and Jack’s hijinks AND the wine references.

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There are A LOT of wine references…

As Pickett says on his Author’s Note page, “No winery or winemaker or anyone in the wine trade (in) any capacity influenced the wines or wineries that appear in Vertical.  As part of my research for Vertical I held several large tastings with non-wine professionals and solicited their opinions.  The wines that appear are a result of those and other efforts, and were picked as appropriate for the characters and the story.  Please celebrate the hard work and achievements of all vignerons in the spirit of the Vertical journey.”

Given the impact Sideways has had on the wine world I thought it would be fun to point out the wines that Miles, Jack and others drink in the book.  This is not a comprehensive list; many other wines were mentioned, but only glancingly.  The wines I’ve listed below all figure into Vertical as name-checked plot detail from Miles.  The links for each wine go to either the winery or retail where the wines can be purchased and I’ve added the retail price for those scanning.

A nearly complete list of wines from the book Vertical

2009 David Family Pinot Noir | $70

2007 Bonaccorsi Pinot Noir | $50

2008 St. Innocent Freedom Hill Pinot Blanc | $20

2008 Witness Tree Vintage Select Pinot Noir | $40

2007 Witness Tree Claim 51 Pinot Noir | $48

2007 Sokol Blosser Goosepen Block Pinot Noir | $70

2008 Bergström Vineyard Pinot Noir | $78

Alma Rosa Chardonnay (No vintage mentioned) | $19 - $28

2008 Foxen Tinaquaic Vineyard Chardonnay | $32

2008 Foxen Bien Nacido Chardonnay | $32

Justin Vineyards and Winery Isoceles (No vintage mentioned) | $62

2002 Domaine Mugneret-Gibourg, Grand Cru, Echézeauz | $256

2008 Hilliard Bruce Pinot Noir | $80

1999 Domaine Carneros Vintage Brut | $24.99

Steele Chardonnay Dupratt Vineyard (No vintage mentioned) | $26

2008 Ayoub Pinot Noir | $52

2009 Harper Voit Strandline Pinot Noir | Price N/A

2008 Van Duzer Estate Pinot Noir | $30

Soter Sparkling Brut Rosé (No vintage mentioned) | $48

Amity Vineyards Late Harvest Gewurztraminer (No vintage mentioned) | $15

WillaKenzie Estate Pinot Gris (No vintage mentioned) | $19.99

Raptor Ridge Pinot Noir (No vintage mentioned) | $35

Anne Amie Pinot Noir (No vintage mentioned) | $35

1996 Gevrey-Chambertin Grand Cru Clos de Bèze | $155 avg. / auction

2004 Arnoux Romanée St. Vivant | $296

2008 St. Innocent White Rose Vineyard Pinot Noir | $60


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Field Notes from a Wine Life – Vino 2011 Recap Edition

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

Millenials

At the 6th annual presentation of U.S. wine consumer trends given by the Wine Market Council (WMC) at the Museum of Modern Art in New York City on January 25, 2011, President John Gillespie said everything and said nothing when pressed about “What should wineries do” in regards to Millenials and marketing.  Gillespie noted in response to the query, “It’s so complicated.  But, you can’t ignore it.  Or, you ignore it at your own peril.”

With that, wineries everywhere heaved a labored sigh.  “Complicated” is right and “Ignore” is exactly what I think is happening.

“Twenty something’s.”  “Generation Y.”  “Millenials.” “Social media.”  By now, these are titular reference points that I suspect most people are sick of hearing about, joining me in phraseology weariness.

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It’s nothing personal; I grow weary of other phrases that collapse under the weight of cultural overuse, too.  The next time I hear somebody say, “Thrown under the bus” I’m going to gather them up by the shirt collar and throw them in front of, well, the next passing bus…  In addition, the irony is that for all of the so-called, “Sense of entitlement” that Millennial’s possess, our information culture has done a good job of making this generation feel like they are special by constantly keeping them in the headlines, particularly with the use of social media as some sort of marketing elixir (note:  I didn’t use the overused phrase, “Silver bullet”).

Despite the omnipresent awareness of Millenials and social media, after having spent a couple of days in New York City this week at the Vino 2011 conference, I can’t help but point out that my sense of Millenial marketing, social media and the wine business writ large is that people have tuned out—just as I’ve reasonably tuned out, as well. 

I sense that most producers in the global industry played out in the U.S. know that Millenials are important to the future of wine; they know that Millenials have taken to wine, yet they don’t sense the imperative and they really don’t know what to do to appeal to this youngest generation.  And, of course, my sense of the situation is compounded by the fact that producers have been beaten to a bloody nub with the importance of Millenial marketing from the braying pundits who don’t have proverbial, “Skin in the game.”

In this case, it feels almost like a reverse case of the Preacher’s Kid – or “PK” in a Midwestern abbreviated colloquialism.  As a strict parent if you tell the PK over and over that drinking, smoking and screwing is awful and horrible, the kids are going to do it out of defiance.  Played out in the wine industry, a placid lull seems to have taken place whereby a non-focus on Millenials is manifest almost as a narcoleptic rebellion against conventional wisdom.

While I have the luxury of selective attention because I work in digital marketing by profession and can select what’s important to me based on what project I’m working on, the wine business has no such luxury regarding this key demographic.

Two elements brought this topic of Millenials, social media and the wine business back to front and center for me, giving me a, pardon the indelicacy, a “Holy shit” moment.

First, I was doing research in advance of my participation on a panel about Millenials and digital marketing when I ran across some astounding statistics from the Pew Research Center.

If reading through the technology adoption habits of the generations in the Generations 2010 research report released in December of last year doesn’t shake a wine marketer into a moment of despair when compared against their slate marketing plan tactics then I don’t know what will.

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To wit, according to Pew, 95% of Millenials are online (the greatest percentage of any generation), 83% use a social network, and they lead in every category related to online usage.

As internet analyst Charlene Li has noted, “Social networks will be like air.”

Indeed.

Read the entire report here.

The other key moment was information presented by Gillespie at the aforementioned Wine Market Council annual research review, co-presented with Danny Brager from Nielsen. 

Unfortunately, in their finite discretion, the WMC chose not to provide a copy of the entire presentation, instead offering a peculiar abbreviated hard copy, leaving the meaty elements out of the distribution at the invitation only event.  Despite the Three Stooges eye poke to the attendee’s,  I did scribe some really critical statistics that should make any wine marketer sit up straight in their chair and adjust their somnambulistic gaze into focus with alacrity.

1) In 2010, wine represented the 3rd fastest growing consumer packaged good

2) Throughout the recession, Millenials have demonstrated the most consumer confidence of any generation

3) 91% of wine by volume is drunk by core wine drinkers

4) 51% of Millenials are core wine drinkers!!

5) 25% of wine consumed by Millenials costs $20 +

6) Of a total population of 71 million, 16M Millenials have yet to come of age

So, taken together, the fact that Millenials, essentially, live online, 1 in 2 is a “core” wine drinker, 1 in 4 bottles they purchase is over $20 and about 23% of them have yet to become 21, I would say that the implications are clear.

Get ye online, and get yourself in front of Millenials or, as Gillespie says with a paucity of detail, “Ignore it at your own peril.”


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What Doesn’t Belong in this Picture?

A quick post before I catch up on writing this weekend.  I give to you the worse press release in the history of press releases:

Temecula Business Lawyer, Ray Mandlekar, Brings His Litigation Skills to Wine Country!

Lawyers and wine country go together as well as “kids and guns” and “pickles and ice cream.”

Ahem.


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Field Notes from a Wine Life – New York Edition

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

Vino 2011

It has been two years since I’ve been to New York City, a jaunt I like to make at least once a year in order to get my dosage from the city that hooks people like a drug – the energy, the culture, the food, the global village 13.4 miles long and 2.3 miles wide.

The first time I visited, I stayed at a Best Western near Madison Square Garden where I was greeted by a homeless guy sitting Indian style on the sidewalk vomiting in his lap.  If that wasn’t jarring enough, a cockroach acted as my bellhop scurrying in front of me as I walked down the hallway to my room the size of a postage stamp.  15 years hence, the accommodations have gotten better.

As I write this, I’m ensconced in my hotel room at the Waldorf Astoria drinking the 2007 Donkey & Goat Syrah from Fenaughty Vineyard (a fan-freakin-tastic wine, but I’ll bet cab fare to LaGuardia that the wine is on the high end of the 1% latitude producers get from the TTB on alcohol labeling, this one is defined on the label as 14.1% abv). For what it’s worth, I think Lioco and Donkey & Goat are two of the most exciting young producers in California.  And, it should be noted they have much in common from an ethos perspective ...

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I’m doing some work, laying plans to visit Eataly, the Italian food emporium, and prepping for the reason I’m here – the Vino 2011 conference that kicks off today, Monday, January 24th. 

You can watch the panel I’ll be speaking on streamed live on Tuesday, January 25th at 2:30 pm EST at the Vino 2011 homepage (link here). Called, “What Emily Post can Teach You About Social Media, Millenial App-titude and Geo-Marketing” the panel deftly combines two wine hot buttons – digital marketing and Millenials; it’s sure to be a packed room.

Tom Wark from Wark Communications and, of course, his blog Fermentation will lead the discussion.  Gregory Dal Piaz from Snooth and several other talented folks will be on the panel, as well.  Full description here.

While I’m looking forward to the panel, I do have to admit that technology and marketing is a tough topic to speak to.  You run the risk of saying something that is totally obvious to one person who might be sitting next to someone for whom your bit of wisdom is received like manna from heaven.  And, of course, the opportunity to completely speak jargon-ese over the head of your audience is an ever-looming threat as well.

I have a number of notes prepared, which I’ll save for the panel discussion, but a point I would like to make here is the wine industry is very guilty of talking about Millenials as if they aren’t in the room, a demographic, a target to aim for as a savior of wine sales.  It’s all very patronizing and kind of counter to the respected inclusion that is a hallmark of the generation.

Instead of laying plans to market to “Millenials” using the nearest, brightest new social media related shiny object, I would urge wine marketers to take a step back and understand two key things:

1) What are the generational high level patterns of technology usage

2) What are the generational high level personality characteristics

The most value I’ve received in gaining insight into this generation, who are very different in sensibility than I am as a Gen. X’er, is not a book on marketing, but a book on generational effectiveness in the workplace – what are the broad generational personality characteristics so as a Manager or a leader you can nurture an effective work environment with young talent?

Secondarily, reviewing high-level survey data on technology usage amongst generations will aid decision-making for places to be and the types of activity to initiate.  To that end, it doesn’t get much better than the Pew Research Center’s Millennial section.

The key in marketing is, in my opinion, not laying plans based on headlines and working in a vacuum, its understanding intrinsic buttons to push.  Once you have that, the marketing plan will nearly write itself.

Here are a couple of recommended resources / books related to technology usage amongst Millenials, as well as effectiveness in the workplace:

- Pew Research Center / Millenial Research
- Managing the Millenials
- Not Everyone Gets a Trophy


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Strength from the Inside:  Rodney Strong Pushes On

As a student of business, and specifically marketing in business, I watch certain wineries to see how they handle themselves, reasonably detached, but with a certain brand affection—not unlike having a rooting interest in the NFL playoffs after your team has been eliminated.

Typically, the wineries I follow are mid-sized, but independently owned and largely available in national distribution—the toughest spot in the wine business, not capitalized by a larger company, yet not small enough where decisions can be made by the seat of the pants.  No sir, there are implications to consider.

Still, these wineries have a hands-on touch from the owners.

Two such wineries that come to mind are Dry Creek Vineyard and Rodney Strong Vineyards.

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Rodney Strong, in particular, is an interesting study subject and arguably on the cusp of outpacing mid-sized winery status at 800,000 cases of production. Yet, with them, it’s still reasonably easy to observe the machinations of leadership and market(s) positioning that make for fruitful observation.

The first thing to know is owner Tom Klein doesn’t shrink from leadership and he’s well respected by his peers.  To wit, he’s the Chairman of the Wine Institute for 2010 – 2011. 

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Another admirable trait about Rodney Strong is the fact that they understand that quality is always the best marketing.  You can have the greatest branding in the world, but at the end of the day the product has to support the “brand” in lockstep.  And, in my estimation, in addition to always being varietally correct and neo-Californian in style, Rodney Strong demonstrates significant QPR on virtually every wine within their segmented wine line-up.

As an analogy, when you see the schlubby guy with the beautiful wife and you remark to a buddy, “Man, that guy way outkicked his coverage” – that’s Rodney Strong’s price relative to quality.  You could throw darts blindfolded and hit a good Rodney Strong wine.

In addition to quality, their marketing acumen is apparent in two forms:

1) They have a well-segmented wine line-up that even a simpleton can understand

2) They have a sense of themselves and what’s important to them and how that message is carried forward in advertising

In regard to #1, I would hesitate to call Rodney Strong the “Toyota of Wine” – a phrase that instantly associates them as “solid,” “reliable,” “well-made,” “not too flashy, but stylish and contemporary.”  Yet, their wine segmentation definitely pays homage to an auto manufactures line-up of cars and, frankly, the comparison works both in form and function.

When Toyota created Lexus as their luxury brand and, in recent years, when Rodney Strong created their “winery within a winery” for Rockaway and Brothers Ridge, two wines that have distinctly separate brand elements from Rodney Strong, you know the comparison is appropriate.

See the below graph for Toyota’s car line-up and how that equates to Rodney Strong’s wine line-up:

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Secondarily, Rodney Strong’s advertising underwent some fine-tuning last fall to reinforce a very important aspect about their winery:  Place Matters.

In the hurly-burly that is the modern wine marketplace, it’s often hard to tell the provenance of a wine.  Rodney Strong, attempting to strike a more serious tone while elevating their advertising above me-too look-alike campaigns, is now indicating that, yes, where they grow the grapes is important, changing their positioning from, “From Our Place to Yours” to “Place Matters.”

Conceived by LA advertising agency, Sagon | Phire, Dan Wildermuth, VP of Marketing at Rodney Strong said, “It was felt that adding the people to the ad made it more casual and like many other casual brand ads.  We wanted to keep a level of seriousness and focus on the wine and its origin.  We are all about Sonoma County and the AVA’s we grow our grapes in and in this case, specifically Alexander Valley, Sonoma County.”

You can see the previous advertising below, followed by the current version.

In sum, wine lovers often like to talk about the lessons in the glass—the wisdom that wine offers, a reflection on humanity.  Yes, that’s true, but let’s not forget that wine can also offer other lessons as well – notably, how to run a good business with a focus on quality.

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