Uncorked Ventures Blog

Mark Aselstine
 
November 11, 2011 | Mark Aselstine

Germany Deals with Stolen Grapes

 (AP Photo/dapd, Ronald Wittek, File)

I've long wondered what type of security wineries had across the world and frankly if any were actually needed. There is a famous story about a Pinot Noir grower here in California and how he ended up with the specific clone of Pinot he happens to grow in the vineyard, since that Pinot clone has never been officially sold in the United States. It has been said while on a tour of Burgundy some cuttings may have been taken and put into a suitcase to be brought home. While I have no idea if its true, it doesn't seem out of the realm of possibility given both the personalities involved as well as the enormous profits to be made.  We've always laughed a bit at the story and have certainly read and heard about all the counterfeit Bordeaux being passed in China, but stealing grapes before they are made into wine seems to be new, or at least hadsn't happened for generations.

Germany is confronting the question of vineyard security head on due to stolen fruit from some of their most famous vineyard. As you might expect, securing a 100 acre vineyard is easier said than done.

Boston.com talks some about the problems associated with trying to secure a vineyard, mainly that during the last few periods of having grapes stolen the local vintners could simply stop all unknown traffic on the variety of access roads leading to their vineyards. Of course, things are quite a bit different in 2011 and those roads deliver tourists who are the life blood of the wine industry, so no matter how great the problem, shutting the roads doesn’t seem to be a viable option any longer.

It’s a sad situation both in terms of the larger economy and especially for these vineyards who are struggling to get by in a climate where expensive wines have been hit by both discounters and general malaise in the marketplace.
 

Mark Aselstine
 
November 9, 2011 | Mark Aselstine

Score One for the Free Market

While some of our distributor friends might not agree, the results from the ballot box in Washington yesterday are very encouraging.

Voters enthusiastically approved a bill in the state of Washington to, in essence, tell the state that they shouldn't be involved with the sale of alcohol.  While the measure was backed largely by Costco, I'm sure grocery stores and other big box retailers are going to be thrilled with the change.

Of course, I feel terrible for the 900 state employees who are going to lose jobs in this economy, but I hope that they can move into the private sector and find work at one of the 1,100 newly licensed alcohol sellers.  Of course the state's independent budget office seems to think the change will be good in both the long and short term for the state as far as tax revenue which IMO should be a primary concern.

It's a nice change in the Pacific Northwest and I hope it's a sign of things to come in states like New Jersey and Pennsylvania where the state is incredibly active in liquor sales while there is also litigation moving through the courts while there also stands to be plenty of challenges at the ballot box as well.

More from the Seattle Times and Melissa Allison who has done a truly incredible job covering this niche ballot proposition from beginning to end.

Mark Aselstine
 
November 8, 2011 | Mark Aselstine

Night Harvests

When we first opened Uncorked Ventures we started hearing from winery after winery that they were either already harvesting at night, or were planning to begin the practice. There are some real advantages to beginning and ending your harvest at night according to USA Today:

"Daytime temperatures in the 90s and above change the sugar composition of grapes. Picking at night when sugar levels are stable keeps "surprises" from happening during fermentation such as wild yeast starting fermentation, says Shafer's Andy Demsky.

Pickers can work longer hours in the lower temperatures and also avoid the "wasps, bees and rattlesnakes" that come out during the day, he says. And the grapes are picked cool, saving energy because they don't have to be pre-chilled before they're crushed."

Overall, a practice which brings about both better wine and better conditions for the seasonal laborers whom are largely responsible for bringing in grape crops has to be a good thing.
 

Mark Aselstine
 
November 7, 2011 | Mark Aselstine

Almost Got to Occupy Oakland

Last week brought me to Oakland to visit an urban winery and tasting room, as well as picking up a few sample cases of a 94 point Syrah. It’s always nice to get out and having a winery contact who makes multiple 90+ point wines, many from acclaimed vineyards like Rockpile only half an hour drive from our warehouse.

The only problem that day was that the Occupy protests which have been spreading across the country found their way into Oakland, even shutting down the Port of Oakland for a time. They also, blocked the street which was my only way back to the freeway for most of the day. Of course, by dumb luck alone my appointment took me to East Bay earlier in the day (missing the protests by 30 minutes or so) which was a really good thing given that part of the Oakland protest turned violent. I’ll try and leave politics out other than to say, it seems simple enough to say companies have both a right and a responsibility to their shareholders to turn a profit, while consumers certainly have a right to take their business elsewhere.  Of course, for a large multinational bank that give and take is further complicated by the series of bailouts, but again we're getting too political for a wine company blog.

Personally I can relate to both sides of the argument and are simply happy to have missed the protest in Oakland last week.
 

Mark Aselstine
 
November 4, 2011 | Mark Aselstine

TCHO and Uncorked Ventures Chocolate Gift Baskets

When we first started looking for products for our gift baskets we had a few simple goals:

1) Local Companies
2) Special Products

TCHO chocolates certainly fits both bills and made an easy inclusion in our Chocolate Gift Baskets. Easily the most interesting and unexpected ownership situation of any chocolate company, TCHO was started by a wide range of people with an amazingly varied set of experiences. Jane Metcalfe who is best known as one of the founders of Wired Magazine and helps to show the various and diverse people involved at TCHO. In many ways people are likely to think that someone with interests as diverse as the UC Berkely Foundation, high tech, magazines and the One Economy Corporation (the short story is the idea of how tech can help people living in poverty join the middle class across the globe) wouldn’t be the most likely person to enjoy truly outstanding chocolate, or to make a business out of it.

Of course, given the clear cut connections to UC Berkely and the Bay Area in general, the food focus isn’t as surprising. We’ve talked a lot in this space already about the food and wine focus which pervades the greater Bay Area, not to mention the local love affair with locally grown products.

We wanted to bring that focus on food to our gift baskets and given the immense respect we have for TCHO, their mission and employees, it seemed like a natural fit.

Of course, no chocolate business could be both truly cutting edge without having access to the absolute best raw materials. Karl Bittong is listed officially as a co-founder and from what we’ve heard, his experience and relationships built over 40+ years in the chocolate industry can’t be understated. Much like wine needs the best vineyards and production techniques to be world class, chocolate needs the best cocoa to be truly transformative.

Any mention of TCHO, no matter how brief should also make note that they are one of only about a dozen true manufacturers of chocolate. Most chocolatiers are only re-melting chocolate and not actually manufacturing it on site. Aside from creating better chocolate, this focus on manufacturing also allows people like my wife, who has a peanut allergy, to be able to enjoy the chocolate. It’s nice to be able to find locally made chocolate instead of having to order it from the east coast around Easter to be sure.

If you’re a chocolate fan, or just someone who enjoys a great story or even a high tech start up in an unexpected place, a visit to the TCHO tasting room on the Embarcadero in San Francisco is well worth your time during your next trip to the city.