Wednesday, September 24, 2008

Proprietor's Table Helps the Cause.

Kerry and I traveled back to La Crosse to host a fund raising dinner for cancer research. This concept really started when I decided to release my Dad's first tribute wine in my hometown. I knew that all the proceeds from that wine were going to Melanoma research but wondered what we could do to take it to the next level. That's when my brothers and June Gale put their heads together and suggested we make a fund drive for cancer research-and The Proprietor's Table began.

The Waterfront Restaurant was generous and not only donated their new facility but the food as well. So we had a good start and their generosity was instrumental in us surpassing our goal of $150000. Our chef, Mike Ellis, worked closely with Chef Shawn from The Waterfront and they jointly put out a 6 course meal that is still the talk of the town. The importance of the chefs joining forces is significant because the hospitals receiving the funds collaborated as well. Having people put their agendas to the side for 1 day and work together for one cause would have been made my Dad proud. Growing up in La Crosse, there were times when the two health institutions didn't always get along. To have come so far and for them to work together on 1 cause and my dad's wine beginning a part of it had special meaning to me.

200 personally invited guests attended that night. There was no ticket price nor was there a auction. We wanted people to come enjoy a part of DCW and to really get WHY we were together. Kerry and I reminded people through the night about finding a cure for cancer. My brother Steve, the quiet one, ran the program and Dr Medland spoke about cancer. He shared stories about living with cancer, having friends with cancer like my Dad and having a spouse that has cancer. Everyone in the room understood the meaning and opened their checkbooks. Of course my brother gave a little encouragement at the end but it tells you something about people. One can't underestimate the human spirit. The people of La Crosse knew they were part of something special and took it to heart. They came through when we needed them.

There is a lesson learned from this event. You don't always have to go big and over the top when you do events. You don't have to charge people to come or hit them up with a auction. Do something different and connect with people. Our guests knew what would be asked of them when they came and they didn't disappoint. I'm proud that I launch my Dad's wine in my hometown and I couldn't be more proud to be from La Crosse as the quality of people that live there showed by their generosity at The Proprietor's Table.

Monday, September 22, 2008

Harvest Report

DCW is nearing the midpoint of our 2008 Harvest. The weather changed the flow of grapes coming in but that is part of farming. It seemed like we couldn't pick the grapes fast enough a few weeks ago then the cool weather hit. Our winemakers are working incredibly hard and I'm quite proud of them. "It's that time of year-it's what we need to do" said one of DCW winemakers when I said good job for all the non-stop work he had been putting in.

To sum up some of the action, we started with a bang or maybe a burn out would be a better description. Our first day of harvest, the guys were working in 110+ degree heat and the machines were working hard. It's isn't difficult to surmise what happened next-a part of the machine broke due to the heat. Of course a call went out out for help and to get it fixed but within minutes, I had a production staff member standing on top of the press shoveling the grapes in. Grapes then started to arrive rapidly after our first day. Winemakers were receiving calls from the vineyards about BRIX-they had to go check the BRIX out and grapes were coming in on those days as well. Controlled chaos would be the description. Grapes were ripening so rapidly that it was hard to organize crews to pick for many of the farmers-everyone was picking at the same time so there became a shortage of crews to be had! Good thing my winemakers are flexible and adjust to when we can get grapes (if they come at 3 pm and they work late into the night then that's what they do). We finally seemed to get a break from the heat and we have had a slow down of grapes coming in. WHEW! This week Saralee Chardonnay, the Estate Zin, Petite Sirah and Syrah are being crushed. Some of the reds that have come in already, such as the Maple Zin, have finished fermentation and are being pressed and put into barrels. We expect the Cabernets to be arriving in a few weeks but that works well for us-we have gallons of other wine that needs our undivided attention at the moment.

I love this time of year. There is the smell of fermenting grapes in the air, tons of activity in the vineyards and the leaves are starting to turn color on many of the vines. It is very evident and real how the cycle of life (vines) is. The vines work hard all year long and what we are fortunate enough to receive is their gifts of grapes. It's a truly amazing thing and nothing I take for granted.

Friday, September 12, 2008

Wine Industry and Dogs

The wine industry and dogs clearly have a special relationship. This goes back to the early vineyards in Europe where the dogs were protection for the owners as well as to scare other animals off the vineyards-a simple summary. Well, of course, it has evolved and for many of us, taken on a very different role.

When I acquired the winery, there had never been a winery dog for DCW. Now, I can't say if that was a good or bad thing but I knew we were missing a key piece to the puzzle-which was a dog. I had never had a dog but just knew it was a must for the winery. I could tell you which wineries I had visited that had dogs and which didn't. It gives a winery a different feel-a welcoming and inviting environment (hopefully). Some dogs just wander the property with the owners, some stay close to the house or office and some (like mine) can't wait to say hello.

I couldn't have speculated about how much Dutchess would mean to DCW prior to her arrival but what a magical experience it has been for me and DCW. I knew I would absolutely love my chubby fur ball but didn't realize how loved she would be by others. DCW staff are her human Aunties and Uncles and she eagerly awaits their arrivals every day. But what we find striking is our customers. They comment and wonder out loud if there is a winery dog or if they can see the winery dog. Oh course, Dutchess is more than happy to be the center of attention. All it seems to take is a sharp whistle (which alarms the unexpected) and she comes running to see a possible new friend. She absolutely loves to sit in the breezeway greeting people and really has more fun walking into the tasting room to grab some attention or taking mule tours.

It's a given that I think my dog is awesome but we have developed great relationships with other winery dogs. Now the wineries and dogs seem to be sending customers to each other. I can't even tell you how funny it is to hear people walk in and say they were just with Gus (a fellow winery dog-who Dutchess loves dearly) so they needed to come meet Dutchess. Now please don't take this the wrong way but the wineries dogs are amazing marketing tools and even better Ambassadors. They really are not "just pets". They are as much a part of the success of the business and any other component. Really amazing how their roles have changed (for some) from guard dogs and hospitality dogs.

Tuesday, September 9, 2008

Bernier/Sibary Arrive!

What can I say but I LOVE it when the growers bring in their grapes personally. Having Paul Bernier and Scott Sibary transport their grapes tells a story. They are all serious about their fruit and the relationships with the wineries. Now, many people may just assume that the growers bring in the fruit. That is FAR from reality. We are lucky. The growers we have relationships with are special and unique. Either Kerry or I are in direct contact not only with the vineyard managers but the owners themselves. We don't deal with producers that are looking to over crop the vines or that are large growers. These are special people that are hands on with their business-that's why we deal with them. Sure, there are vineyards out there that grow outstanding fruit but there is much more to it for us. We want to develop relationships with the growers. We want to be able to work with them when it comes to the fruit they are growing that goes into our product. We look for people that are interested in giving us not only the fruit but the fruit that meets our expectations. We have those vineyards/growers as part of our Vineyards designate programs. It's easy to take pride in our Vineyard designate wines because the pride starts in the fields.

Friday, September 5, 2008

Maple Grapes Have Arrived

We are in full swing at the winery and I must say-it's pretty darn fun being here at DCW ground zero. The grapes are starting to arrive quickly now as the sugars are spiking due to the heat. With Kerry out in the vineyards checking the BRIX of the grapes, Dan is directing the action here on the home front.

This week the Maple Zinfandel grapes arrived and to my delight, Bill's Block from the Maple Vineyard too. I'll get to the reason of my delight in a few lines but first things first. We were actually a few days early if you compare the arrival time to 2007 Harvest. If they had their choice it would have even been a few days earlier but the heat and scheduling of pickers delayed it. DCW winemakers were pleased with the BRIX and flavors were what we were looking for so in the final compromise, our customers should have another outstanding Zinfandel to put on the tables. I will definitely keep everyone posted on the progress of the wine during the next several months.
Bill's Block arrived as well. Good thing to as we are sold out of the 2007 vintage already-and we haven't even bottled it yet. It's our first time to pre-sell out of any wine. Makes me quite proud of my winemakers to create a wine that excites people this much from barrel. To be honest, it was nice to see the 2008 Bill's Block grapes arrive as I already have demands for it. It's a hard concept to get use to bee sold out before we even bottle the wine but gosh-what a great feeling.
Stay tuned for updates from this week as we are planning to crush several more wines.