Uncorked Ventures Blog
If there was ever a wine which caused discussion, it’s definitely Pinotage. Combine a unique taste with production occurring primarily in South Africa and you have a wine which is going to befuddle many wine lovers, even some of us within the industry.
As always, let’s start at the beginning. Pinotage was “born” in South Africa some time after WW I (1925 is generally accepted) as a cross between Pinot Noir and Cinsault. Cinsault was called Hermitage at the time in South Africa and continued to be known by that name until genetic testing showed that Hermitage and Cinsault were in fact the same grape, so the name reverted back to the French version. Thus, the name Pinotage being a combination of the two grapes. I don’t think Pinotsalt works well.
From the beginning, it was an odd match. Pinot Noir is a cool weather grape. Cinsault is a warm weather grape. Pinot Noir hails quite famously from Burgundy. Cinsault was almost extinct at the time in the Rhone Valley.
The combination of flavors which are present, really depend on your personal palate. Fans of the wine and the grape point to it’s easy growing schedule and interesting combination of lightness along with a fuller body than a typical Pinot Noir. Additionally, the wine is known as the prince of South African wine, with winemakers in that country the only one’s consistently using the grape in their vineyards, although you can certainly find a few California versions these days. Those who don’t especially enjoy the wine will consistently tell you that there are flavors or smells which remind them of old socks, or paint.
All of this being said, we will certainly always include a Pinotage when we have South African tasting events. It’s an interesting wine to be sure. Not everyone is going to enjoy it, but unlike so many grapes it really does promote conversation within wine, which long term is a very good thing.
In early 2011 Italian wine is certainly world class quality, but the grapes which go into the wine and the wine regions themselves are often confusing and complicated, even for the most serious wine drinkers.
Sardinia is a perfect example thereof. The island of Sardinia is home to a wine which we’re including in shipments for our Wine Exploration Wine Club in March, a Vermentino, which is a grape which is barely known internationally.
Sardinia itself is a semi autonomous island about 120 miles west of the Italian mainland, interestingly the descendents on the island are more likely to be sheppard’s rather than fisherman, despite their island’s placement in the middle of the Mediterrean Sea. Even the language causes problems for visitors of all types as it is a curious combination of Italian, Spanish, Basque and even some Arabic. Sardinia is truly a culture which has taken bits and pieces from everyone who has taken residence on the island at one time or another. Language problems, a difficult to find location and continued naming problems in Italian wine (often 2 different grapes in nearby regions, have different names) will likely to continue to hide the quality and price to quality ratios which are both currently among the best in the world when it comes to Italian wines. It’s too bad because these wines with their minerality, would be consumer successes within the wider wine world if consumers were given a fair chance to understand what they were drinking.
We think Vermentino is a wine which could easily gain market share in the United States over the coming years, if growers are able to educate wait staff and wine store owners about it’s attributes. It’s a dry white wine, typically unoaked and very much fruit forward. In many ways it offers an interesting distraction for those drinking a lot of Chardonnay in the oaky, buttery style which has pervaded the industry over the past two decades.
We had a short conversation on Twitter with a wine blogger friend who let it slip that she was enjoying a Cabernet Sauvignon based blend which she had made at a custom crush facility. It got me thinking that custom crush and making a small amount of wine was something which our customers and readers would likely be interested in.
So what is custom crush? Wine Business does a good job explaining it when they say “Custom Crushing, defined as paying a bonded winery other than your own (if you even own one at all) to process grapes into wine”
The easiest way for us at Uncorked Ventures to look at it is that, sometimes aspiring winemakers don’t have the capital or facilities to make wine at a traditionally styled winery next to the vineyard where the grapes are harvested. We’ve had a number of outstanding wines, many of which come with significant critical acclaim which are produced with purchased fruit and made at a custom crush facility. For a winery first starting using a custom crush in one way or another is the only true way to start without millions of dollars in funding.
Price, of course is one of the driving factors and while no one is explicitly sharing Wines and Vines shares information which is fairly similar to what we have heard privately when they say: “A realistic average in California ranges from about $30 to $55 per case. The upper range makes it pretty hard to produce a “value” wine, no matter how little you might pay for the grapes. “
We’re not much interested in true value wine, Trader Joe’s and other large retailers do a good job there (think $5 and under per bottle), but there does seem to be an opportunity for wine lovers to craft a barrel of wine per year with purchased grapes at a custom crush facility while ending up with a $50 Napa Cabernet Sauvignon for about half that cost.
At some point in the future we’re happy to break down more exact prices for making your own wine, but a new French Oak Barrel runs about $1200, grapes can run $4k per ton/acre (or more, much more) from established quality vineyards, bottles and corks add another $1.50 or so per bottle. As you can tell, there are a lot of factors adding to the price of wine, including the opportunity cost of paying that money for a wine which then needs to be stored for a few years before it can even be bottled.
Custom Crush might not a fit for everyone, but we have to admit, this is something both Matt and I have been intrigued by over the past few months.
This past week we had the opportunity to ask a few questions of one of our favorite print journalists, Bill Daley. Bill’s experience within the wine industry is extensive, having spent time as the food writer and restaurant reviewer for the San Francisco Chronicle as well as his current position as a food and feature writer for the Chicago Tribune.
Bill’s also become famous in and around social media as one of the most open traditional journalists in the field. You’ll find Bill is imminently available on both Twitter and Facebook.
Lastly, one thing that stuck out during our brief email questions and responses with Bill was that he’s certainly in the perfect field. I think our readers will immediately notice that his writing style is approachable and easy to understand. We read his column, yes even when restaurants are featured half the country away, because we enjoy his writing style and think there are plenty of small bits of information which can be relevant to our business as time goes by.
-When did you start drinking wine? Is there any wine or wine related experience which stands out? I started drinking wine while in high school. The father of my then-girlfriend loved honest California zinfandels and he’d offer us glasses with whatever he was grilling. I liked wine in high school – remember it WAS the 1970’s – but stopped drinking wine in college because the selection at the college pub was so lousy. Started up with wine again in earnest in the early 1980s in the context of what to order with what I was eating. As a newbie reporter I literally couldn’t afford to make a mistake. One night at a seafood restaurant I ordered lobster with a bottle of Graves. Fantastic. Went back a month later. Ordered the same lobster but the waiter suggested a white Burgundy. Equally delicious but very different in style and also a very different dining experience. The light bulb went off in my head; I realized I could shape the meal by what I chose to pair with the food. I began taking notes on what I drank and with what so when I went out to dinner I wouldn’t be stumped – or spend too much for plonk..
-How did you start writing about food/wine? Wrote my first food story for Christmas 1981. It was a round-up of what chefs in my area of Connecticut were cooking up for dinner. Imagine the horror when I realized the bouche de Noel – Yule log – went on the dining table not in the fireplace! I spent nearly 20 years writing hard news, covering small towns and mid-sized cities, writing about crime, politics, whatever. But I tried to write about food and wine every chance I could get and ended up a restaurant reviewer in Connecticut. From there, I went on to write about food and restaurants in San Francisco briefly before coming to the Tribune in 2004 to be a food and wine writer. I’m just a food writer now, though.
-You’ve been embraced by a number of social media types as the traditional media reporter who understands social media the best. What got you started with Twitter and FB? Have they been helpful to in terms of sources? If you had to start over today, would you do anything differently in that regard? I do love the reception I get from social media types just for being out there – but it makes me feel like such an old fogey. “Oh look, kids, Daley’s doing it!” LOL.
A Tribune colleague who worked in social media really encouraged me to get into Twitter and FB. I started into it as a challenge – how many friends can I get – and found I loved it. I tend to think of both as the equivalent of a radio microphone that I can “flip on” and air whatever interests me when it interests me. I also love hearing from and corresponding with readers, even the grumpy ones, so social media served as a great way to do that.
Twitter and FB have been incredible fonts for food and wine sources. I find I can get to and set up an interview with someone faster via social media than via telephone or email. I also like using fb’s function….when I need to find a new sommelier source in the southwest, for example, I go to a sommelier I’ve already friended and see who he or she has as friends. And off it goes!
What would I do differently? Wish I knew about it all sooner. We were doing a great string of food and wine videos that eventually was halted for apparent lack of viewer interest. If I had known about social media then what I know now I would have put those videos out on FB and twitter and sought to develop a wider audience. I also wish I knew more of the technical lingo but I’ve always been more of a hands-on learner when it comes to technology….
-Do you notice a large difference in wine selection (consumer tastes) or knowledge when comparing your time in Chicago to that in San Francisco? What I love about Chicago is its enthusiasm for wine and food. I find a real spirit of discovery and not too many jaded palates. Obviously SF is going to have a much larger and deeper collection of California wine given its location but Chicago does very well and Chicagoans are increasingly willing to experiment with wines from less-obvious areas.
-Any thoughts on HR 5034 and it’s effect on the wine market in Illinois? Rather not go into this. My files on this issue are over 6 inches thick and I may be called about in the future to write about it.
-If I had to go to one Chicago restaurant or wine bar for a glass tonight, where should I go? Great, answer this question and I tick off my wine friends at the restaurants I don’t mention. LOL. Probably more diplomatic for me to waffle on this one. Chicago is a big enough town that you can, easily, find just the right restaurant to match your wine tastes. Just walk down a street in whatever neighborhood you’re in and check out the menus. You’ll find the right spot soon enough.
You have mentioned that you have strong feelings in regard to how wineries should be seeking or receiving publicity, do you mind sharing a few of those here? I do wish wineries and their publicists would pause for a moment and figure out what each media outlet does, who they’re aimed at and what they like to write about before making the same old pitch.
The Tribune is a general circulation newspaper; wine stories have to reach the novice as well as the pro. Stories that are too insiderish, too elite, too, well, too won’t work for the Tribune. We also rarely focused on one particular winery, winemaker or wine yet hours were spent trying to cajole me into a one-on-one with the winemaker so I could undergo the hand sell. And the invites ranged from breakfast to midnight. No time for that sort of thing and, anyway, there was no place to put that info.
Getting wines in to the office that I couldn’t find anywhere in Chicago also chewed up a lot of time. I think the strategy was that by sending me wines to taste and rate in the column it would fuel consumer demand for the wine and get stores to order it when all that really happened was angry, thirsty consumers cursed the Tribune for writing about wines they couldn’t find! And I, in turn, cursed those wineries and wine publicists who sent me the bottles in the first place.
Original ideas work,. One publicist got his clients, pinot noir makers, in to the office because he said they could talk about what the movie “sideways” had done to their biz and pinot sales in general. This pitch came right as the movie opened so there was a news angle and lots of interest. Loved it! The wine-making couple even hung around and took part in one of our tastings as guest judges so they got into two columns not one.
Editor’s Note: Thanks for taking the time to answer our questions Bill. We really do enjoy your work and greatly appreciate your openness in all of our interactions. We enjoyed the stories about pitches and how certain wines and wineries we able to gain attention from more traditional media. Over time, like many businesses we think gaining some share of media is incredibly important, even if that process is just started for us at Uncorked Ventures.
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