Monday, October 27, 2008

Syrah-Is It Really Misunderstood?

As our Rhone Ranger event approaches, Syrah has been a hot topic. The question is-How does the wine consumer perceive Syrah (or the unknown Rhone varietals)? Wine stores and restaurateurs have very different perceptions. Wine stores have growing difficulty selling Syrah vs the restaurateur finding Syrah to be a good seller. Does the ability to pair wine with food give the advantage to restaurants? Yes! The Rhones are food friendly wines but what can the industry do to help bridge the gap between the different points of sale?

The Rhone Ranger event has the distinguished honor of Barbara Hom-CIA and Gary Saperstein-The girl and the fig as a panelists. During our pre-event tasting for the seminar, they touched on this very topic. They both enjoy pairing food with Rhones and find them well received by their consumers. Does this allow consumers the chance to side step the intimidation factor they may feel when they come face to face with Syrah or uncharted waters? Personally, I believe so. I have a difficult time purchasing wines in stores that I haven't tasted especially when I'm unfamiliar with the blend or varietal. I don't drink a lot of Marsanne/Rousanne straight so I tend to not be daring/adventurous and purchase a bottle. I have the confidence that restaurants knowledge regarding their food and wine list that I always take the suggestions from the wine director and go out on a limb trying unfamiliar wines and brands. I guess the big question would be why I don't always take wine store employees suggestions to heart. There are some that I have great relationships with the managers and I do take their advice with no hesitation. But then again, I know they suggest wines they are very familiar with. Unfortunately, not all employees have the luxury of tasting all the wines that pass through their doors. Maybe wine shopping is like shopping for jewelry-one needs to build a relationship with company before you really turn to them for advice.

From the boutique wine owner point of view, I always want the consumers to come to the winery personally for purchase. For DCW, we know our product better than anyone. My staff understands our wines because they experience the product start to finish. Our education starts with staff learning about the vineyards, tasting fruit during different stages, tasting fruit when we bring it in for harvest. My winemakers take time having staff try the wine when it's juice though the stages of fermentation and while it's barrel aging as well. They really absorb what Kerry and Dan are trying to express in the fruit. Having access to winemakers that are willing to explain/education makes all the difference. Our DCW wine club family and customers buy our Syrah and Petite Sirah because they trust our advice. We sell our Syrah because we had the opportunity to turn on people to something they normally would not try unless they are in the right situation. Our customers are given suggestions of how to enjoy the wine with food pairings. They start of on the right foot with a Syrah experience which is enjoyable. That helps develop the passion. We all can remember not liking certain vegetables we hated as children but eat now. Maybe our early dislike of them had to do with the way they were prepared or with what they were paired with.

Bottom line until our discussion happens, it is the winery's responsibility to educate everyone who sells their wines. Too many times Syrah and other small lots wines get lost in the shuffle. If a winery makes it, they should be just as proud and excited about that product as the traditional wines such as Cabernet or Chardonnay. How we go about getting everyone up to speed about Syrah and Rhones is another problem. DCW, along with 21 other wineries, is trying to break through the unknown with the launch of the North Coast Chapter of the Rhone Rangers. Our seminar has as many participates as our general tasting. That goes to show people want to learn so they can enjoy wines they have been missing out on.

Monday, October 20, 2008

End of an Era for Our Old Vines

It's the end of an era for our old vines and I have to tell you, I'm sad about seeing them go. Even though I only have that a short time to spend with them, it's difficult to see part of our history being ripped out of the ground. 33 years is a long time.

We have made the right business decision for the winery regarding the change. It would have occurred whether we were here or not actually. Jim and Bruce had it in their long term plans to rip and replant. There was nothing wrong with the vines with the exception that they were growing older and the production was decreasing every year. But that doesn't make it any easier.

They have helped us produce gold medal winning Proprietor's Reserve Cabernet. We have used them as part of our educational program and to be honest, it has been interesting to be able to see first hand how the wine industry has changed over the years with respect to planting of vines. But those fans of Proprietor's Reserve Cab-DON'T WORRY. We have Cabernet planted in the vineyard and as Kerry said to me-"Wow, our PR CAB won medals for us already. Can you image how yummy it will be with better clones?" With my Winemaker enthusiastic about the direction of the vineyard, wines and everything that is happening, it helps re enforce that fact that we are taking the steps in the right direction.

Dutchess seems to be the one that is taking this the hardest. It was her favorite place to run though the vines and chase bunnies. She doesn't understand what they are doing to our hide and seek area. She'll come around when she sees them cut the vines down. Doggie heaven for her as she adores big sticks. For those of you that want a vine as a remembrance, give us a call and we'll put one aside for you to pick up.

Monday, October 6, 2008

People Within The Wine Industry

It's been over a year and a half since my purchase of the winery and there has been one standout occurrence that has happened-the help I have received from several other winery owners and people within the industry. I knew that many people out in Wine Country were helpful as my Dad and I had experienced that during our search. It really is a different concept to get my arms around. I understand the neighborly aspect as I grew up in the Midwest. You always offer help, check in or simply help someone to their car. But as a whole, business owners are friendly with each other and work together on community projects but it's rare to take the time and answer questions from a competitor.

Maybe the use of the word competitor is the key difference. In general, we all are competitors but there are a few exceptions to the rule that view the industry through different glasses. Some of my fellow owners have extended hands of friendship but also guidance as well. They not only understand that if their neighbors succeed chances are it will help drive people to their winery as well. However, the most striking gesture is the guidance they have been willing to share with me. I have made decisions with planting vineyards, building a possible barrel building, inventory issues to shipping and compliance concerns. I have been fortunate to meet some quality people that I could turn to and ask questions. These people have been patient as they have been though the same bumps in the road as I am or will experience. They are willing to share their trials and tribulations to help me understand things more clearly as I try to make the right decision for my winery. Some of my neighbors have even gone so far as to put me into contact with someone they know will give us the right answers (even if it's not what we were hoping for).

Some of the best advice has come from sitting with my neighbors sharing a glass of wine. They continually stress to me that it's important to have patience. But to do things the way that is correct for DCW and not what was right for anyone else. Every winery is different but we can learn from each other. Sure, I want my customers to enjoy DCW wines and our experience but part of my duty to them is to make sure when they are not with us, they are having a great experience in wine county too. That's were knowing and working with neighbors comes into play.