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Challenges and Changes for Boutique Wineries – Are They Ready?

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The wine industry as a whole is under siege from demographics, economics and this insidious virus, Covid-19. Small and family owned wineries are at a critical stage in their life cycle. How will they survive? What are the challenges? How should they engage their customers? These and many more questions and hopefully a few answers will be suggested. The sales channels have been shifting like an earthquake fault with the same instantaneous timing. The marketing of Direct to Customers (DTC) and club memberships has increased in order to fill the void of selling to the restaurant end market. This is by no means an encyclopedia or a road map for success, but below are a few ideas to hopefully weather the approaching storms.

 

The Challenges

For some time now many discussions have taken place regarding the transition of Baby Boomers to retirement and the Millennials, Gen-X, Gen-Y, Gen-Z etc., not taking up the “slack”. The introduction of new marketing of seltzers, craft beers, whisky and less complex beverages than wine have added to burden. Also the over production and grape glut in California, including storage issues, is reaching critical levels. Add to this the devastation of marketing channels brought about by the pandemic to small wineries, how will they recoup loss revenue and market penetration? Tasting rooms may be opening soon, but the experience will be totally revamped from the “old normal”.

 

Possible Responses

First is the lack of accountability of the wineries in understanding their customers. Take for example some of the latest information that fully 55% of wineries have no dedicated person collecting data and only 27% have an employee part time in this effort! Why is this important and how does one collect it? A winery provides samples of their wines without requiring anything from the consumer. Collecting simply their name, age, key dates (birthday, anniversary), email, varietal preferences, etc., opens up a plethora of ways to marketing or co-marketing with restaurants, florists, etc.

 

With the data in hand, special occasions either solely or jointly marketed with a partner can provide coupons, discounts, incentives on the wines to be had at home or dining out. This data can be used for communicating with the customers not just for “special deals” but to foster and build up a relationship with their customers. Filling this void and engaging “friends of the winery” will develop a new and deeper avenue of a customer/client relationships.

 

Analysis of the data may provide details which the winery can leverage to increase sales. This can be loyalty programs for years as a club member, special wines for those key occasions (birth of a child, retirement, new job, birthday, etc.). Right now many have missed some significant celebration in their life. But before any program can be ignited, you must have the data. It is quid pro quo and should be a prerequisite for tasting or being a club member at any winery.
Personalization with customers is also key. Understanding what “floats their boat” is paramount in the equation. For example if a large contingent is into music, art, baseball, golf, football, etc., then provide those social outlets (when allowed to) combining your wines with those events. With tasting room traffic decreasing for some period of time, go meet your customer. Perhaps even doing wine tasting at their home with whatever the prescribed number of friends is allowed and under “social distancing” guidelines at the time.

 

Reinvigorating and reinvention of the tasting room is needed urgently in order to capture the meandering customer lost in the dry desert! If the customer cannot come to the tasting room or will be limited via numbers and reservations, why can’t the winery simply supple samples? Do a bottling of 187ml samples, single serving (perhaps charge new folks, free to club members) of your current offering? Enclose an order sheet with the samples and presto, you have an engagement.

 

Conclusion

 

The wine industry and specifically small and family owned wineries are facing an unparalleled challenge to their survival. Discounting is a bandage approach which will only erode their brand long-term. It is also a steep slope to move pricing back up in the future. Some have had to do this out of necessity for cash flow to pay for equipment or rent, but this can only go on so long. The challenge is to come up with a sure fire customer data collection process, innovative marketing (SMS messaging, small samples), creative outreach (knowing your customer) and meeting the consumer on his/her turf (including in home tastings/presentations).

Slainte,

Michael Kelly
https://californiawinesandwineries.com

2018 Mia Nipote Barbera Sparkling Wine – Livermore California

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California’s first Methode Champenoise Barbera! This was a vision of Steven Mirassou, Nancy Castro, and Steven’s two daughters, Katherine and Sara. The four of them sampled three bottles of an Italian version and decided to make this to drink for all occasions. Steven is the owner and winemaker of Steven Kent Winery, Lineage, Ragbag and Mia Nipote wines. Steven envisioned making a “modern version of a traditional style sparkling wine”.

 

Thanks goes to Barry Jackson of Equinox who helped bring the bubbles (secondary fermentation) and the Lineage Collection for getting this to production. The grapes come from the Home Ranch vineyard on property in Livermore.

 

So to help give a perspective on sugar levels for Champagne here are the basic categories, going from sweet to dry based on dosage of sugar added:
• Doux: 50 or more grams of sugar added per liter. Outrageously sweet.
• Demi-Sec: 32 to 50 grams of sugar. Still sweet but showing some traction in the market.
• Sec: “Sec” in French means dry. But dry here indicates a medium sweet sparking of 17 to 32 grams of sugar per liter.
• Extra Sec: Meaning “Extra Dry” which is less sweet than Sec wine with 12 to 17 grams of sugar per liter.
• Brut: Up to 12 grams of sugar added. This leads to a balance of flavor and acidity. A bit more rounded than Extra Brut. This is one of the more popular levels of Champagne for consumers.
• Extra Brut: With fewer than 6 grams of sugar, this will produce higher acid and accentuate the carbonation.
• Brut Nature: With no sugar added (less than 3 grams), not common but a way for the winemaker to allow the quintessential nature of the Sparkling wine. This will provide strong minerality and high acidity.
This Sparkling Barbera is unique, not only for its bubbles but for the low alcohol and extremely low residual sugar level. Picked at 20 bricks and having a sugar dosage of only .175, this is an extremely dry, crisp and bright wine with a cutting acidity. This high acidic wine is a perfect complement to seafood (Salmon, Halibut) and fatty salami’s. As an aperitif, caviar, fruits and hard cheese’s come to mind.

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The color on the eyes is unique and draws attention to its copper/golden hue. The bladder press used in making this wine, allowed a soft extracting and no additional skin contact. The color is a function of the whole cluster (no de-stemming) and the yeast taking some of the color out of wine.

 

On the nose, minerality and soft earth aromas are present with faint flora characteristics. On the palate, the acidity is extremely strong, especially at colder temperatures and hard to discern the fruit. Once it has warmed up a bit, trace amounts of red fruits like cherry, raspberry and dried strawberries can be found. Floral notes of violet, vanilla and nutmeg arise. The finish is lip puckering dry. As we tasted the wine, we notice the dried apricots went especially well with it. So we did an experiment to add a few drops of an apricot liquor to the sparkling. This seemed to be a wonderful addition. Unfortunately we ran out of the delicious strawberries the evening before as this also would have been a great addition especially for an aperitif.

 

Only 225 cases were made and will be initially available for Mia Nipote Club Members and then the general public. Price is listed at $48.
Slainte,
Michael
https://californiawinesandwineries.com
http://www.mianipote.com/

Vinoce Vineyards – 2016 Mt Veeder Cabernet Franc

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Brian and Lori Nuss are the owners of Vinoce. The meaning of Vinoce (vin-o-chay) is a play on his name and German-Italian background. In German “nuss” translates as “nut”. In Italian “noce” means nut and thus Vinoce means “wine nut”. But there is nothing nutty about this wine, specifically the 2016 Vinoce Cabernet Franc from Mt Veeder!

 

Their Cabernet Franc from Mt Veeder is exceptional, partly due to the geology of this designated sub-AVA of Napa Valley. The area is about 25 square miles with approximately 1,000 acres planted. The area is known for its thin volcanic soil and steep mountain face, some as much as 30 degrees. The steepness of the vineyards provide more sunlight and better drainage. Berries are generally smaller than the valley floor as they have to work harder in the volcanic soil with less water. Wines from this region possess strong structure, briarwood flavors and are typically bold. No exception for this Vinoce Cabernet Franc. Mt Veeder accounts for only a little over 1% of total Napa Valley production.
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This 2016 Cabernet Franc was entered last December in the California Wines & Wineries Cabernet Franc Competition. In the Category C ($61 to $99) this wine was voted by the Professional Judges as Best of Show and awarded Double Gold. See the complete story at:https://californiawinesandwineries.com/2019/12/05/results-of-cabernet-franc-day-wine-competition-by-california-wines-and-wineries-held-december-4th/

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I was so delighted with this wine the other night! First on the eyes, a dark ruby red with a slight purple hue. On the nose, aromas of dark cherry, blackberry and cocoa. On the palate, floral notes, cedar, briarwood, blackberries, cherry, blueberries, along with black pepper/peppercorns engulf ones mouth with a robust explosion. The finish is long with soft leather, a hint of sweet vanilla pipe tobacco, dried herbs and earthiness from Mt Veeder. The tannins were present but not obtrusive.

 

This is a great example of the premier Cabernet Franc’s coming out of Napa Valley. This is a must have to keep in your cellar. Current list price is $85 at the winery.

 

Slainte,

Michael
https://californiawinesandwineries.com
https://www.vinoce.com/

The Baron 2016, from Perry Creek Winery

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20200515_1227082016 Perry Creek Winery, The Baron. A blend of El Dorado Cabernet Sauvignon (78%), Cabernet Franc (15%) and Merlot (7%). A great nose of cocoa and berries. On the palate, blackberries, soft leather, pipe tobacco and cocoa. Extremely drinkable with velvety tannins, producing a soft drinkable wine with a soft landing finish. 20% new French barrels used. A wine to drink now. Not on website but contact winery for pricing.

 

Slainte,

 

Michael

https://californiawinesandwineries.com

https://www.perrycreek.com/

 

2017 Tate Wine Chardonnay – A Solid Meeting of New World & Old World Styles

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2017 Tate Chardonnay. It is both an old world Chardonnay with finesse and slight citrus hints, combined with a new world Chardonnay style, with just the right amount of oak and a controlled secondary malolactic fermentation, to create a slight butter taste to this intoxicating white gem. On the eye a light golden color and medium viscosity. Aromatics are slightly floral. Lemon and grapefruit abound with a slight fresh peach. Bright, crisp and very clean made by extraordinary winemaker David Tate. Paired with onion topped chicken, Yukon Gold potato and fresh garden salad.

 

Slainte,
Michael
https://californiawinesandwineries.com

http://www.tatewine.com/

2016 Casino Mine Ranch Marcel – Two Good Varietals Becomes Great Wine

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Last night pulled a wine on the “to drink” list for 2020. This wine was purchased almost a year ago from Casino Mine Ranch in Amador County. As a refresher, Casino Mine Ranch is a fairly new operation in Amador County. Jessica Tarpy is the winemaker with Andy Ericson as consulting winemaker. Andy Ericson (Screaming Eagle fame) is his first and mostly like only Amador consulting he will do based on a long time relationship with the owners. See the complete story at: https://californiawinesandwineries.com/2019/07/23/casino-mine-ranch-a-tale-of-family-friends/

 

I was thinking this would be a good after dinner wine but was I wrong!! This provided a tremendous mouth filling experience. It is a combination of two varietals, 80% Tempranillo and 20% Teroldego. Both varietals do extremely well in the heat in the Sierra Foothills. Tempranillo is a diverse grape with its pedigree being Portugal and Spain. It is known as Spain’s noble grape and used primarily in making some of the best Rioja’s. Tempranillo means “early” as it typically ripens a few weeks earlier than most of Spain’s red grape varietals. It is a black skin grape.

 

Teroldego is a red Italian grape varietal hailing from the northeastern region of Italy. It gets its name from “tirelle” or wire harness for its method of cultivation. The first recordings of Teroldego goes back to the 15th century with a sale mentioning this varietal. Teroldego generally possesses spicy red fruits, tar, pine and almond and possess a bright acidity which goes well with a variety of foods.

 

Both of these varietals were brought over to California during the Gold Rush in the Sierra Nevada foothills. The wine name being Marcel is to honor a lifetime resident of the property, Casino Mine Ranch, Marcel Tiquet who was the custodian of the land for over 60 years. The dark skin Tempranillo and hearty Teroldego, went thru an extended maceration on the skins and thus the inky dark, almost black, coloration on the eyes. Then the wine spent 18 months in new French barrels.

 

On the nose, the softness of cherry, plum, vanilla and clove beckons you to sip the wine. Once on the palate, an old world feel of Tempranillo and Teroldego pop into your taste buds. The tastes of a rock solid Spanish Rioja like Tinto de Toro come to mind. The sweet flavors of cherries, vanilla and plum are counterbalanced by bramble, earthiness, tobacco and spiciness of Teroldego. As their winemaker notes these two wine create an “incredible tension, balanced with a lushness that leaves you reaching for your next sip”! The finish was long and obviously complex with these two wine varietals with acidity filling the palate.

 

The key here is that two very good wine varietals formulated a great wine! Upon just one sip, I knew this wine would make my list of the Best Wines of 2020. Today, the 2017 is released and goes for $35.
Slainte,

 

Michael
https://californiawinesandwineries.com

https://www.casinomineranch.com/

2008 Detert Family Vineyards Cabernet Franc

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When looking at the Detert Family Vineyards logo one might expect a “gnarly, rough and tumble” wine perhaps. Nothing could be further from the truth as their Cabernet Franc is smooth, a full mouth lingering pleasant concoction of chocolate, and numerous layers of berries and tobacco. Tom Garret hosted me six or seven years back and with his experience at Turley, Joseph Phelps, Robert Mondavi, and under Heidi Peterson Barrett as her assistant winemaker for Revana, he has “it down pat”. I have consistently drank and rated his wines as one of the top 10 Cabernet Franc’s in Northern California. For six years in a row their Cabernet Franc made the “Best of the Year” on my favorites for the year.

 

Tonight pulled this 2008 Cabernet Franc to go with a seared BBQed ribeye steak medium rare, Yukon Gold potato and fresh garden salad. This 2008 was still strong with fruit, structure and the silky tannins were just starting to settle down. A wonderful wine and could easily go another  3-4 years in the cellar.

 

Slainte,

 

Michael

https://californiawinesandwineries.com

http://www.detert.com