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Tasting 200 Wines in 3 Days: Sensory Overload?

Do you think an average wine blogger can really ‘taste’ wine and get a good assessment of it at the Wine Blogger Conference 2010 (#WBC10)? A discussion with Jay Soloff, owner of Delille Cellars (@DelilleCellars on Twitter).

I’m sitting here having tea and gluten-free muffins with Jay Soloff, co-owner of Delille Cellars, which has been deemed ‘Washington States Best Winery’ time and time again. My meeting with him was not to interview him, it was tea between friends. But our conversation developed into a perfect blog topic. It went a little something like this…

Barbara: I tried well over 30 new wines a day at the Wine Blogger Conference 2010 last week. Not only was the amount of wine tastes that were thrown our way overwhelming, but there was a constant buzz of music, conversation and sales pitches, along with a general palate fatigue of 30+ WA wines a day, which started at 9am, and ended well past 10pm. Can a non skilled palate make a sound judgment under these conditions? If the point of our tasting is to let our followers in on some best kept #WAWine secrets, is an event such as this effective, as say, an hour in a tasting room or sipping a bottle of WA red with dinner?

While at WBC, I avoided any attempt to tweet or blog wine reviews, and wonder what type of assessment could truly be made in an atmosphere of that nature. For me, tasting wine in a crowded room, filled with music, people chit chatting with me about up-coming wine events etc is almost impossible (even with many years in the wine industry, and many trade tastings and events such as Taste WA). The distractions are just too numerous. I decided, instead to focus on the personalities of the wine makers, their history and story, and how I could help them get the word out on their wine. Every wine maker I spoke to, and every wine that I tried did leave an over all impression on me… but man was it tough to make a sound assessment!

Jay: Yes, that is something that wine makers/owners think about when at tastings. We at Delille Cellars have discussed our presence at large tastings numerous times, and what it means to us in terms of Return On Investment (ROI). We conclude that we don’t care about ROI at all… not even a little bit when we pour our wines to hundreds of people. We can’t weigh the value of any of our marketing effort, our aim is just to be accessible! You never know today what participation will yield down the road. What you give is what you will get. Not everyone we taste on our wines in a crowded, distracting, room will take away what we really want them to (a great introduction to our wine), but they may take with them the experience, a bit of our history, and the ability to have asked me direct questions.

Barbara: That is so perfectly ‘wine’. The wine industry is particularly unique to me in that you are selling more than the juice. You are selling a lifestyle and an experience. It seems similar to what you are saying to having a presence at a large tasting. I am glad to hear that you don’t need to measure the results of giving tastes of your wines to people, such as the Wine Blogger Conference. This leads me to ask you a question about why Delille doesn’t seem to be investing much in Social Media. Why is it that wineries are apprehensive to use that same ROI marketing concept with Social Media?

Jay: Wow… that’s a very great point Barbara, Social Media marketing has been sitting in my gut as something we need to do. Unfortunately, there are 4 owners, not just me.

Barbara: We’ll talk about that next time we meet for muffins Jay. Thanks for answering my questions.

I would like to hear more from the people that feel they are able to make a sound judgment about the wines tasted in this type of environment, especially during ‘speed tasting’. For me, WBC was a great way to learn about new wineries, places to eat and stay etc as a way of steering my followers to new cool things. As for getting a good grasp on the wines that were poured, I may have to buy them all and taste them one by one in my kitchen with dinner!

Inside the Head of The Owner of A 9,000 Bottle Wine Collection!

An Interview With Cliff Chung, Owner of One of Seattle’s MEGA Wine Collections

* See Below for Information Regarding How YOU Can Purchase Some of Cliff’s Collection at a GREAT Discount!

I have known wine makers, Sommeliers, Master Sommeliers, Certified Wine Educators, General Managers/owners of 5 star dining establishments, and pretty much anyone I could introduce myself to in the wine industry. The inter-workings of the industry are very well known to me. What is not, however, is the consumer side of wine. Sure, I know people who have beautiful collections, fine dining parties, and even some who sip Cristal with lunch like it’s water (though I have yet to be invited along). What I have never tapped into until now, however, is the deepest layer of consumer that can be found. I call it Obsessive Collective Disorder (OCD), and I finally got to meet a fellow who’s been hit by the bug! While many of us in the industry are completely enamored by them and their very mysterious existence, the normies may consider them over the top, and just plain eccentric.

*Email Cliff at cfchung@comcast.net for Information About the part of His Collection He Is Selling!

Thank You Purple Cafe And Wine Bar in Seattle

A Few Quotes I collected From Cliff After The Interview:

“From the mid 2000’s till 2009 I bought 95% of my wine from Garagistewine.com, after a friend recommened I check out it’s website. I did and was hooked after that. So now I have about 9000 bottles, 3400 of which were purchased fro Garagiste over the last 4 years”.

“I buy bang for the buck wines that can age. I didn’t but to be a collector, but a drinker and sharer of wine. People point out that I can’t drink all that wine, but when i past on, someone will inherit a nice stash of wine”.

“People drink wine too early and too fast at meals. We look for instant gratification. Open the wine, especially reds an hour or two before the meal, decant if needed, pour into a glass to let it breathe, sip while you cook and notice how the wine flavors and aroma evolve”.

“Make friends with the venues that sell wine. Some local food stores have great discounts available”.

“There is a glut of wine out there. Many bargains to be found. And winemakers throughtout the world are getting better at making good to great wine at good prices”.

Who is Seattle Wine Gal? Interview With Sacre Bleu

All Content Belongs to Barbara Evans. Into and interview questions written and conducted by Sacre Bleu

The tale of anyone who manages to map their way back from distress or misfortune seems always worth repeating.  We love the comeback story, the person who in spite of whatever crap got dumped into their life just didn’t see failure as an acceptable option.  They played it out.  That’s Barbara Evans, or as many of us have come to know her, Seattle Wine Gal.

Seattle Wine Gal is the Twitter name and emerging brand that is becoming a sort of Internet/Wine pop culture phenomenon.  Her number of followers, in a very short period, has sprung to almost 5000 and her web site look and content could be best described as guerilla minimalist.  It is at once both substantive and irreverent with no shortage of attitude and charisma.

Evan’s is a study in survivor strategy and balls out determination.  From a childhood depression and a learning disability comes a young woman with 7 years of TaeKwonDo experience at traveling tournament team level, roller derby girl, MA is Social Anthropology, aviation and pilot training with a final touch down as social media advocate/wine babe.  In short, she’s one of the important faces helping transform the ever youthful wine landscape.  Our interview with her comes at a time when her work load and popularity are growing rapidly.

When you look back to when you first began enjoying wine, did you ever have a eureka or Sacre Bleu! type moment where you realized wine was really special and what was the wine that came with that moment?

People love asking wine lovers “what was the bottle that turned you into an enthusiast”. Many wine lovers think up some super expensive First Growth Bordeaux or fine Champagne as the bottle that ‘did it’ for them… don’t believe them! I have asked this question to hundreds of people, and after some coaxing have learned that most wine enthusiasts discovered that wine was special when they bumped the price point from $8 to $12! I believe there are scads of “eureka” moments in a wine lovers life, all which make it more difficult to go back to that $8 bottle. As for me, I used to drink boxed wine. After “splurging” on a $15 of Tempranillo, I couldn’t drink the boxed wine anymore. My second Eureka moment came when someone bought me a bottle of 1999 Sanford Pinot Noir. After that I began working at a wine shop, attending seminars, and eventually traveled the world in the pursuit of wine!

You’ve managed to overcome a great deal in your life. The journey from young girl with a learning disability to licensed pilot, SCUBA certification and ultra marathon runner with an MA in Social Anthropology isn’t typical. What is it that burns inside you as motivation?

Yes, my past surprises people. I openly admit to having had a rough adolescence. I had severe depression and behavioral problems, which led me to “special kid” classes/schools, learning disabilities, and other problems which I will not mention (but thankfully overcame). I have always tried to keep my head above water and be a good kid who got good grades. To get a B, I tried a hundred times harder than many of the A students. After years of struggling to keep up, I developed an unintentional, systematic hyper drive sense of motivation. As life got easier, the hyper drive that barely kept my head above water started propelling me above and beyond. I guess I never really noticed (and still don’t) where this unique inner flame to push life to the limits leads me.

What is it about the integration of social media with wine that brings you to this level of passion and fun that you chose to carve out a career in it.

I never intended to start a business after ‘creating’ Seattle Wine Gal. One Year ago, I worked for a large online retail company. I created and managed their Social Media program. I was given no resources to learn how to create a winning campaign, and I had no background in business. I poured my own money into educating myself and spent hours and hours of my own time mastering SEO, analytics, and basic platform tech skills for this campaign. Just as I began to see real success, and a positive Return On Investment, I was let go due to a merger with another company. It was then that I decided to push the limits with what I learned. I created Seattle Wine Gal as an experiment. Everything that I wanted to do working for corporate, but was not ‘allowed’ to, I did with Seattle Wine Gal (from dropping the F bomb occasionally in my tweets, to pics of me guzzling expensive wine out of the bottle on my Facebook page). I found that people were tired of the same old ‘wine review’ style wine bloggers, and drawn to my style. Along the way I began to see the wine industry struggling to tap into one of the most sought after customer demographics right now… young wine drinkers! Wine makers and shop owners, as well as Seattle restaurants began calling on me to help them with their Social Media. Trading my know-how for wine and food wasn’t paying the bills, so I started my own business BeRealTime and do business as Seattle Wine Gal.

Do you believe that social media will reach it’s true potential in terms of engaging consumers with products? At least in the wine world it seems that so much social media bandwidth is spent with company’s and brands engaging each other more often than the consumer.

Yes, there is a very fast shift from traditional marketing to social media marketing right now, and there is no sign that it will ever go backwards. This seems to be very scary for the wine industry. They know that they need to get involved, but have no idea how or why. I see a lot of heal dragging, but I also see just as many people adopting these new marketing tactics.

As a company, it is very easy to get caught up in only engaging online with other companies like your own. To maximize Social Media efforts, businesses need to be dialed into their target audience i.e. their potential clientele. Extend your reach, find new people, and always be other focused. No one likes a product pusher (snore). I strongly advise business owners to get on board as quickly as possible. You get what you give; dedicate some time and effort to Social Media… the return on investment may shock you!

You’ve opted for a minimalist look for your site and turned away the recommendations of some who have urged you to upgrade its look. Why do you resist those urgings?

Part of this marketing shift I spoke of above is a consumer appreciation for raw, gritty, human presentation. People are tired of high production values and clean shiny print ads. At the same time Reality TV became popular, so too did reality marketing. It’s all about content. I am going to create a webpage soon (using zero dollars), but ultimately feel that it is completely unnecessary. I also feel webpage’s them selves, and text blogs (no offense) are beginning to lose interest and will fail to capture consumer attention. I am focusing my efforts more on video, and just started a fun new Youtube channel. For businesses too busy to write text blogs, I highly recommend getting into video. It’s easier and is the direction Social Media Marketing is headed! As for webpages, they are like a business card- a completely stagnant advert unless you work to bring it to life (badges to your YouTube channel, Twitter, Facebook etc). The new target audience is more likely to find your Facebook or Twitter page than your website.


Social Media in the Wine Industry… You on Twitter yet? #WAMerlot

You’re invited to the largest simultaneous online Washington Wine tasting event ever (well at least that we know of). Gaining inspiration from Rick Bakas’ #CaliCabs event (and the upcoming #SauvBlanc event on March 4), a group of Washington wine writers and bloggers are hosting a national #WAMerlot taste and tweet.

RSVP for the Event at http://wamerlot.eventbrite.com

Join us Thursday, March 25 from 5 – 7 PM (PST)

Participation is simple – Find a Washington Merlot, open the bottle, drink it and tweet about it using the #WAMerlot hashtag. Using a program like TweetDeck will make participation easier (see the video on the upper right of this page).

Can’t find WAMerlot? Fear not, a special collaboration with Wine Library brings you three choices in various price ranges. Buy one or buy all three. Click the image below to see the killer deals Gary Vaynerchuk and team put togther for us!

Are you a Washington Winery? Click here for details on how YOU can make this an effective event for you!

Why Merlot? This is not a screw Sideways and shaft Miles event. This is an event to celebrate a wine variety that helped put Washington on the map. Previously I asked the question, “Which one grape best defines Washington?” The challenge, many grapes grow well and thrive in the various climates of the state. Along with smooth and rich Merlot, Washington is known for big Cabernet Sauvignon, bold Syrah, richly crafted Chardonnay, inspiring Riesling and more. With 122 votes, the outcome is below. While Merlot may not be the clear winner, it is more widely planted and more wineries across the state feature a Merlot or a predominant Merlot blend. Over the next four week’s leading up to #WAMerlot, I’ll feature a special segment on Merlot!

This event is co-sponsored by some great people on Twitter:

@seattlewinegal, @wawinereport, @nwwineandre @shona425 @wineeyak @yakimavalley @lunabeanmedia @winebeerwa @catie @walla2winewoman

Drink Happy!

*Content taken from http://www.drinknectar.com with permission and was written by Josh Wade @nectarwine

What on Earth is a “Barrel Sample” Walter Dacon Wines Explains

February 23, 2010 Leave a comment

I had an AWESOME time this weekend at Walter Dacon Wines in Shelton WA. THANK YOU Lloyd, Ann and Holly so very much for showing me around. I feel about Walter Dacon the way I do about Obelisco Estate and Barrage Cellars– true GEMS that I am so happy to have found.  Wine Maker and owner Lloyd introduced us to his dog Belle, and then took us in the cellar for some barrel samples.

Awesome wine maker and cutie Holly talks about Twitter!

Why Do Wineries Have Tasting Fees? One Perspective by Don Phelps, Hard Row to Hoe Vineyards

December 30, 2009 52 comments

I would like to warmly welcome and introduce Don Phelps, of Hard Row to Hoe Vineyards in Chelan, WA. Don is the author and guest of today’s post “Why Do Wineries Have Tasting Fees”. Having been a tasting room administrator myself for a number of years at a wine shop, I know very well why wine shops have a fee, but I wondered if this reason differed for wineries; it does! It’s surprising how many people do not understand just how much goes into getting that one taste of wine into their glass, and why, in fact a tasting fee is applied. Here is one vintners perspective:

As a small winery (2000 cases) we (Hard Row to Hoe) elected to institute a tasting fee at our tasting room. We did this primarily to protect ourselves against large groups that come on bus tours that historically taste wine, take up staff resources and leave without purchasing. This does happen! We also found that there were a small percentage of our visitors only interested in one thing – drinking free wine!

In our case the tasting fee is five dollars and applied toward the purchase of a bottle of wine if the customer decides to buy, so you can think of it as a non-refundable deposit.  It has been our experience that most folks buy at least one bottle of wine so we actually collect very few tasting fees, other than in the case of the large group tours.  For those that do winery tours just to taste and not buy, the tasting fee allows them to taste and leave without feeling an obligation to buy wine as you might if you tasted for free.

We welcome everyone to our tasting room and encourage big limo and bus tours to visit.  We believe that even if they do not buy on this visit, they will spread the word about the quality of the wine and the good time they had in the tasting room and will eventually be back. Word of mouth is our best advertising.

The bottom line to all of this is the fact that not charging a tasting fee drives the cost of wine up to every wine buyer because a winery has to recover their costs and make a return on their investment or go out of business.

So the next time you are out wine tasting think about the effort and expense the owners went through to produce a bottle of wine to open and share with you and you will better understand and appreciate the purpose of the tasting fee.

Thank you so very much Don, I really appreciate you taking the time to share your insights on tasting fees.

Find Hard Row to Hoe on Facebook and Twitter!

Visit their tasting room: Directions from Chelan: Follow Highway 150 towards Manson. Take a right at Mill Bay Casino on to Wapato Lake Rd., Ivan Morse Rd. is the second right. Look for Hard Row to Hoe winery signs, we are at #300 Ivan Morse Rd.

Or contact them by email! jumpintheboat@hardrow.com