Uncorked Ventures Blog
It seems that biodynamic wine is in the news again, at least in the blogosphere thanks to Tom Wark at Fermentation as well as Steve Heimoff.
While both writers do a better job than I can at sharing their concerns with the movement, my thoughts have always mirrored theirs. We spend an awful lot of time talking to vineyard owners, winemakers and others within the wine industry.
At our core, we’re a wine club interested first and foremost in high quality wine, so if the industry thought biodynamics was a way to gain higher quality-I’d assume someone would have mentioned it during a meeting. Over the course of two and a half years, it simply hasn’t happened yet. That makes me wonder, if the entire wine industry in California, Oregon and Washington behind the times, or are some proponents of biodynamic wine making bigger claims than are actually based on fact?
At the end of the day anyone who lives and makes a living near wine country is going to care about the environment. Rising temperatures, seas and the destruction of the water table are all serious issues which are going to affect the wine industry over the long term. Anything wineries and vintners can do locally to help protect the environment is a really, really good thing and I think biodynamic wine has a place there to be sure. What I don’t want to see happen however, is a total commitment to biodynamics without a corresponding look into how wineries can be greener businesses overall. From the way a winery creates power to the packaging they use for in person sales and wine club shipments, there are ways for almost every winery in America to be a greener business. Let’s start there and then move on to biodynamics if the research appears more solid at some point in the future.
We have premium wine clubs!
We get the question almost every day right now: Why should I join one of your wine clubs when there are other, cheaper options available?
Let’s break this down into a few different categories, first why join one of our wine clubs instead of buying wine locally and second, why our wine club instead of one of our competitors.
I’ve drank plenty of $5 and $10 wine in my life. I think Trader Joe’s and your local grocery store during a sale do a pretty good job of providing wine at that price.
What I don’t think those type of stores do a good job of providing is really, really high quality wines. That’s where we come in. I think if you compare what we offer to your local grocery store, or even your local wine store you’ll see range of offerings which simply aren’t available elsewhere.
Wines like Kinero and Roar which we shipped last month are great examples. Kinero is a personal lable of the winemaker at Denner Vineyards, Anthony Young. Anthony makes three different white wines, crafting less than 500 cases total among the three. These aren’t wines which your average grocery store even knows about and your average wine store isn’t able to access them either. We are because we’ve gotten to know Anthony a bit after meeting him in person.
Roar is another outstanding example. If you don’t believe me, check out the Roar website. Sold Out. The fact is that this is another personal relationship which has allowed us to access some of the best Pinot Noir in the state of California, from one of the top vineyard farming families anywhere.
As for our competitors. Some are certainly bigger. Most have been around quite a bit longer. While I can respect their ability to find new customers, what I don’t quite understand is why they aren’t willing to share the wines that they ship. We’re willing to share, directly on our website our last three months of shipments as well as a short list of our favorite wines from the past year. Does anyone else give you that much information? What are they trying to hide?
Trinchero Family Vineyards has been a Napa Valley landmark since the family left a comfortable life in New York City to live the dream in wine country. They bought an old and outdated winery which was once Sutter Home and began to remake the land, vineyards and buildings. Of course the profile of the winery took a dramatic step forward when they started producing what was likely the first White Zinfandel in California. While White Zin has certainly become the punch line of many jokes within the wine community of late, it helped to introduce a skeptical public to California wines in the 1980’s, well before the average American consumer realized the quality wines being produced domestically. Less well know is that the winery also had started to make a name for itself among the wine elite by a series of outstanding Amador county Zinfandel offerings. Ensuing decades brought even more changes and increases in quality including the purchase of over 200 of the best vineyards in Napa Valley as well as moving the winery into St. Helena. The end result of over 60 years in the wine trade: a really, really high quality Napa Valley winery producing approximately 12,000 cases of wine per year.
We bring up Trinchero today because UC Davis has officially dedicated an agriculture and environmental sciences building bearing the families name. While many wine drinkers realize that UC Davis educates and trains many American winemakers, most people don’t realize that the University does at least as much in terms of true viticulture research. Whether its genetic testing to find the parents of currently popular grape vines, or the continued research into stopping Phyllexora here and abroad UC Davis is truly living up to its charter as a University made to create high quality, relevant research. Additionally, the ties between the Mondavi family and Davis have been well chronicled elsewhere, but for someone working in the wine trade I can greatly appreciate another winery choosing to help support the greatest publicly funded research center in our industry, especially in a time where state funding is stretched incredibly thin.
We don’t talk competitors much in this space for a number of reasons, mainly because we don’t think it is appropriate, but every once in a while a wine that one of our competitors ships gets our attention.
While I won’t name them out of courtesy, I saw a post on a wine blog that I read frequently with the review of the wine club shipment.
The wine club in question sells itself in much the same way that we do, they’re family owned and feature family owned wineries.
The bottle in question was made by Fess Parker.
Yes, Fess Parker is family owned.
Yes, Fess Parker makes some nice wine.
Yes, Fess Parker has a great story behind it. (It was started by the actor of the same name who made a name for himself as Davey Crocket and Daniel Boone on tv)
I have to wonder though, if this is what customers expect when they hear about a family owned winery. The winery currently owns 1,500 acres of vines and crafts at least a few hundred thousand cases of wine annually.
I guess I wonder, when is family owned what we expect? Is there a production level limit as well? If so, where does it lie?
It also made me think how lucky we are to know the Santa Barbara wine scene so well. Fess Parker has been a providing and training ground for a number of up and coming winemakers in the area. Mike Siqouin who makes the wine at Beckmen Vineyards and under his personal label Kaena would have made an excellent choice. Blair Fox got his start at Fess Parker at that same time and now crafts Robert Parker’s favorite group of wines in the area out of a 200sq foot tasting room on the back of a coffee shop in Los Olivos, with pictures of his young children on the walls. Lastly, Larry Tercero makes wine under his own label to craft more eccentric wines which we’ve also enjoyed. Heck, the three of these winemakers now get together every year to celebrate their becoming friends while working at Fess Parker by making a wine called Thread. We were lucky enough to be present at a blending meeting during one trip to Beckmen Vineyards and saw them working to put the best barrel of fruit they each had into this interesting blend.
Maybe it’s some nostalgia on my part having lived in Santa Barbara for five years, but the wine scene is really full of great winemakers who have great stories to tell about why they make wine under their own label. I wish our competitors would take the time to discover those stories from time to time. Admittedly, this is the one competitor who I think works most closely to the way that we do, so it was even more surprising.
First let’s start if you aren’t familiar with Mr Heimoff, he is the west coast editor of Wine Enthusiast. He held the same position at Wine Spectator before moving over and has been a part of the wine industry for as long as I’ve been alive. Steve is a fixture of the California wine scene and behind the scenes, holds much of the same power when it comes to scores and selling wine as does Robert Parker, without much of the consumer acceptance.
Secondly, we’ll also mention that Wine Enthusiast runs a wine club and is a direct competitor of ours (no I’m not going to link to it here). They offer a few clubs and international choices end up in 3 of their 4 club options, so we won’t get too bent out of shape over the competition angle.
Of more interest for our customers is how Steve views his job working for a magazine which allows wineries to advertise, while reviewing and selling wine at the same time.
To me, that’s an interesting paradox and must be a challenge to keep all those activities separate. Yes, I think they do a good job currently, but it is a concern of mine going forward as competition in our space continues to increase. I mean, how can we expect newspapers to exist if they aren’t selling wine right?
In any case, I get what he’s saying about being thanked for being supportive. We get much of the same reaction, although on a much smaller scale I’m sure. As an independent wine club we aren’t required to buy wine from the same people year after year.
Yes, it can be strange and somewhat surreal to have to explain that you aren’t placing an order because you didn’t think the wine was as good in their current vintage. Yes, it can hurt relationships.
We hope that wineries whom we largely consider our partners more than anything understand that doing the best thing for our customers is good for everyone long term. There are plenty of distributors out there who are required to push whatever wine comes their way from their clients.
That isn’t our model and it won’t ever be our model.
As for Steve, I hope reviewers at his magazine and others are able to remain as impartial as he has always seemed to be.
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