Uncorked Ventures Blog

Mark Aselstine
May 24, 2011 | Mark Aselstine

Another California Wine Passing

It seems that there have been a series of events in the wine world of late which signify the end of an era. From the recent passing of Patty Bogle to Robert Mondavi’s passing a few years ago, we’ve begun to see the conclusion of the generation of California vintners whom first put the Golden State on the world stage when it comes to wine.

That trend continued this week, although in a much less tragic way when Jess Jackson effectively turned over control of Kendall-Jackson’s wine empire to company President Rick Tigner and his son in law/current CEO Don Hartford.

While I won’t attempt to get into any motivation for the change in this space since major media such as Forbes has done a better job than I possibly could, I couldn’t see a story like this pass without mentioning it. Literally everyone in the wine industry owes a debt of gratitude to the pioneers in California. My business certainly couldn’t exist without the massive gains in quality led by Mondavi, the willingness to acquire brands while keeping their production levels small like Kendall-Jackson and a willingness to experiment with different grape combinations and AVA’s like Bogle.

As someone in the business, I only hope that this next generation of winemakers and wine companies can have half the impact of the generation only now winding down their influence.

Mark Aselstine
May 24, 2011 | Mark Aselstine

Meeting with Vintank

During a recent trip to wine country we had the opportunity to spend some time with Peter Alig, the digital brand manager of Vintank. We had an enjoyable meeting at the Norman Rose Tavern in downtown Napa and took some time to learn more about what Vintank does and some of their clients.

These stories usually begin best at the beginning. Vintank originally came on our radar due to their Deals From the Vines Facebook group which effectively functions as a deal site for wine specific deals, many direct from the wineries themselves. Having some experience with larger coupon sites, we thought it would be interesting to have a conversation about their long term plans for the group as well as other happenings in and around Vintank.

Vintank itself is a digital think tank for the wine industry. Founder Paul Mabray has extensive experience within the wine industry, including founding Inertia Beverage Group which at the time was the only serious player hoping to assist wineries in marketing themselves online. Frankly, we couldn’t agree with the premise of the company more, wineries and wine clubs don’t do a good job enough job telling their stories or effectively selling online, us included. We’re getting better, but a wine industry which is more capable of demonstrating why consumers should move beyond generic supermarket wines is only a good thing for our business. There is certainly an incredible amount of room for growth in the industry as evidenced by the explosive growth of wine blogs, conversations on Twitter and the willingness for winemakers and vineyard owners to be available online and through social media.

Our conversations with Peter were extensive, we enjoyed hearing about his time and experiences moving to Napa Valley with a dream of working in wine, but without any job lined up before arriving. Having started our wine club in what is now being called the Great Recession, we don’t have to imagine the type of looks and comments he received when he told his friends and family in Indianapolis about his plans. Peter did a nice job outlining what Vintank is currently capable of, what the plans are for the future and how our two companies might be able to work together in the future. Frankly speaking, we’re excited about the prospects.

Additionally, I can’t help but mention the free copy of Gary V’s most recent book which we were sent home with. Initially we hadn’t realized that Vintank had a relationship with someone who certainly would count as a competitor (we do largely have different business models, so his company isn’t necessarily a direct one) but the relationship makes sense given both of their status at the top of the social media revolution within wine.

Lastly, anyone interested in selling anything online should have a look at their recent white paper about the future of wine and technology. I’ve seen quite a few people suggest that their outlook is perhaps too positive, but it does feel as if things are improving both in terms of sales and interest in fine wine, but also in how wineries and wine companies are representing themselves.

The bottom line, we enjoyed our time with Peter quite a bit and feel extremely comfortable recommending Vintank to wineries looking to increase their online presence.

Mark Aselstine
May 24, 2011 | Mark Aselstine

Wine Blog Wednesday-Ala Wine

This week’s featured blog, AlaWine.

Why we read: Ken has created one of the very few portholes for information about the myriad of wine blog choices out there. We love his lists of the top 100 wine blogs, his top 100 wino’s on Twitter and much, much more.

He also takes the time to list wine competition winners, which makes him probably the only wine blog we’ve found willing to do so.

Lastly, his tasting notes are well represented and offer a realistic view at any one wine. He gives a nice combination of tasting notes from the winery, his own tasting notes and bottom line’s the wine for his readers.

We hope our readers will take a minute to check out his various top lists as well as reading his tasting notes. There is a good chance he’ll point out a couple of outstanding blogs you’re not currently aware of.

Mark Aselstine
May 24, 2011 | Mark Aselstine

Right Bank of Bordeaux comes to Los Angeles

Every so often we have the chance to do something which is both incredibly helpful for our business as well as being really fun within the wine industry. Yesterday was one of those times as the Right Bank Circle of Bordeaux wines brought a tasting event to Los Angeles.

Billed as “From Barrel to Bottle” it was the first opportunity for retailers in the United States to sample part of the 2010 vintage from the right bank. While the Los Angeles event was only one day, there are sessions later this week in both Chicago and New York.

For Uncorked Ventures, we don’t necessarily have a wine club which is a perfect fit for the average wine from Bordeaux because our Wine Exploration Wine Club is only $40 per shipment, while the average Bordeaux price is well above $20 per bottle, but that doesn’t make these types of events a waste of time for us, far from it.

So why attend? To start, it’s always fun to taste great wines and building a better palate is a very real responsibility over time. Understanding why Bordeaux has been a measuring stick for wine the world over for well over 200 years is a very real responsibility. Moreover Bordeaux is known the world over and has been for generations for their Merlot (or in many cases, Merlot based blends), which is dramatically different than the California versions we’ve tried of late. There is a finesse evident in these wines while retaining a fullness which is incredibly impressive.

Secondly, it’s also a great chance to network within the wine industry. I was able to spend some more time with Michelle McCue who I met at a tasting event last month and who I always enjoy speaking with as she is one of the few PR folks seemingly focused on the wine industry for clients. I also spent time with a range of other retailers, wine consultants including someone who is largely responsible for label registration of French wines and even a start up winery or two, one which employs a favorite winemaker of ours. These types of connections are certainly beneficial over time and the ability to meet people face to face is a welcome break for an online retailer such as myself.

Lastly, oh the wine….of course. A couple of my favorites of the day. Chateau Fayat which might be a nice entry point into Bordeuax for those more familiar with California Cabernet Sauvignon because the wine is a bit heavier than others at the event because of a higher proportion of Cabernet Sauvignon in the blend. I also enjoyed Chateau La Rose Perriere which I think is going to dramatically improve upon their 87-89 score from Parker for their 2008 vintage. The ‘10’s seemed not only more concentrated, but were so much better on the nose that it was hard to even compare them to earlier vintages being poured.

Mark Aselstine
May 24, 2011 | Mark Aselstine

Blogger Interviews-Vinography

We recently had the opportunity to ask one of favorite bloggers a few questions via email. For those new to reading about wine online, Vinography is certainly an essential resource and is a blog which we read almost daily here at Uncorked Ventures. Alder (the writer, founder, editor etc) has been extremely forthcoming with us during our limited discussions which we both appreciate and respect. He’s a no non-sense editor and we think his blog should be used as an example and as a best practice for anyone just starting to write about wine.

Why do we read his blog? To start, we enjoy his writing style, but more importantly the content he covers is probably more suited to our business than any other blog out there. Aside from his extensive tasting event coverage (during which you might see him walking around Ipad and wine glass in hand, typing notes for the blog) we also enjoy his coverage of wine regions and current happenings in wine. Unfortunately, some blogs fall into the problem of only reviewing sample wines which readers can’t possibly access, that doesn’t happen with Vinography. While Vinography will cover the higher end of the market more often than some other blogs out there, there is plenty of information there for anyone interested in wine no matter if you’re a fellow blogger, in the business yourself as a third party, consumer or even a winery. Lastly, if you are a winery looking for a landing spot for your advertising dollars, he has the nicest looking set of demographics in the industry.

Lastly, we’d be remiss without taking a moment to thank Alder for his time. We realize how often these type of requests must come in and appreciate the time and effort clearly evident in the responses which appear below.

-When did you start drinking wine?

In some small way, I grew up in wine country. I would spend summers with my dad in Sonoma County, and when my grandparents came out for visits, we would invariably go wine tasting with them. For the most part I have fond memories of cavorting on the lawns outside of these big “castles” but on occasion I’d hang out with the adults and listen to them chat. I got my first sip of wine that I actually liked on one of these days, which I believe was a late harvest Sauvignon Blanc. I didn’t know that wine could be sweet before then, and that sip convinced me that all wine wasn’t disgusting.

My real love of wine began while I was studying for a time in England. The food served in the colleges at Oxford University in the early Nineties was awful, and so I found myself cooking for myself more and more. Thinking that the civilized thing to do would be to drink wine with a home cooked dinner, I would go down to a local bottle shop and buy a wine. Too intimidated to talk with anyone at the shop, I’d simply look on the lower shelves that I could afford and pick a label that looked interesting.

I really enjoyed this exploration, which opened up a whole world of flavors and grapes and places to me, and so when I returned home to the US and completed my degree, I continued to buy wine and cook a lot, both with increasing passion.

-Vinography started in 2003, how has the wine blogosphere changed in the 8 years since?

Back then there wasn’t a wine blogosphere to speak of. Now there are thousands, maybe tens of thousands of wine blogs around the world. It’s a bit crazy, really. Now there are blogs that are taken quite seriously as legitimate outlets for the kind of wine writing that used to be exclusive to a few top magazines and newspapers. We’re seeing something of a democratization of writing about wine. There’s a lot of crap out there, of course, but a lot of new voices on wine, mine being but one, have emerged, and the consumer is much the better for it.

-Do you mind sharing one great wine experience with us?

Well, since it’s top of mind, and I can still almost taste it, I’ll talk about my experience last night. I was at the World of Pinot Noir conference in Shell Beach, and the last evening of the conference, they have a dinner where everyone brings along at least one bottle of wine to share with friends. The evening was winding down, and I had tasted a lot of really amazing, and really expensive wines, when I wandered around the corner and bumped into a winemaker friend of mine who had just extracted the cork from a dusty bottle. It was a 1959 Chambolle-Musigny Premiere Cru Burgundy from a producer that doesn’t even exist anymore, and it was utterly sublime. It literally stopped about eight of us in our tracks for half an hour. We just stood there sipping this wine, transported. The gal next to me kept saying “Oh my god. Oh my god” over and over again. I felt the same way. This wasn’t one of the top wines of Burgundy, it was a humble mid-range wine, stored well, probably bought for under $10 on release from the winery, and it was rocking our world. It represented everything good about wine, and what is so magical about Burgundy.

-If you only could drink wine from one winery, or one winemaker for the rest of your life…..which winery, or which winemaker would you choose?

This is such an impossible question. One of the things I like about wine is the sheer variety of it. Any wine, no matter how great, would get boring if it was the ONLY thing you had to drink.

-Any advice for those interested in pursuing either a career in wine or simply wanting to gain more attention for their wine blog?

Career in wine, huh? Isn’t that an oxymoron? Anyone who thinks they’re going to make a decent living in the wine industry likely has a rude wakeup call coming. Anyone who thinks they’re going to make a decent living writing about wine is either unbelievably naive, or simply insane. If wine is your passion, you should definitely find a way to exercise it, but everyone should think twice about whether the best way to do that is to make it your job. If writing about wine is your passion, then you simply just need to do it. Every day. Start a blog and just crank out the content. If you have a blog, then force yourself to write something every day. The way to get more attention for your wine blog is to have great content and lots of it. Period.

Thanks again Alder. We can certainly appreciate the sentiment on the difficulty making a living in the wine industry. We’re reminded of the old saying, it takes a large fortune to make a small one in Napa Valley….we’ve heard a few wineries joke that the paradigm should be changed given the global wine market. Having been open ourselves now for around 14 months, it’s certainly a difficult and competitive industry, but we couldn’t imagine going back to doing anything else. We’ve also found not only wineries, but sometimes direct distributor competitors can be among the most supportive and understanding people we’ve met anywhere. There is a camaraderie among the wine industry which neither Matt nor I have see in any other industry we’ve been a part of. It’s that camaraderie and yes, the product which makes this whole venture worthwhile.