Uncorked Ventures Blog

Mark Aselstine
May 24, 2011 | Mark Aselstine

Custom Crush

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.

Mark Aselstine
May 24, 2011 | Mark Aselstine

Interviews-Jim Daley of the Chicago Tribune

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.

Mark Aselstine
May 24, 2011 | Mark Aselstine

Wine Blog Wednesday-The Good Grape

The Good Grape is our Wine Blog Wednesday submission for your reading pleasure this week and has been a favorite of ours since we first found the blog over a year ago.

Written by Jeff Lefevere in a part of the country, not exactly known for wine consumption (Indiana) we enjoy reading the Good Grape because of Jeff’s interesting take and partially because of his slightly cynical take on news stories of our day. As an example, his Things I Don’t Understand post from March 13th 2011 starts by asking two questions which I’ve asked myself as of late:

“There are a lot of things I don’t understand: How or why the Kardashian’s made an estimated $65 million dollars last year, for example. Or, why the NFL and the Players Association can’t figure out how to split $9 billion dollars is another.”

Since my wife loves the Kardashian reality show, I think I can at least partially explain #1 while #2 will likely remain a mystery for some time. Come to think of it, aren’t the Kardashian’s pitching almost everything right now, from Proactive to clothes, it has made us wonder if they’d do some publicity for a certain high end wine club since we’re so fun to work with…I digress.

Ok, back to the blog. After a couple minutes of reading the Good Grape you’ll notice a few things. One is that Jeff isn’t taking himself too seriously, which is nice. More importantly, you’ll also notice that he’s made one of the most well respected wine blogs on the internet, without doing a ton of reviews on his blog. As much as we like to read reviews, for many readers they aren’t incredibly useful because they can’t access the wine in question. As a side note, if we were writing wine blogs instead of running Uncorked Ventures, we’d certainly include a review from time to time simply because they seem to encourage free samples.

If you haven’t noticed, we’re attempted to match part of Jeff’s style here, probably without complete success. That all being said and jokes aside, we really do enjoy the blog and think you will as well. The Good Grape is not only well written, but offers an off beat and cynical take at times which can be missing in the world of wine which almost universally takes itself too seriously. Thanks for working to change that in your own unique way Jeff, we think it’s a good change for the industry and one which should allow new wine drinkers to feel more comfortable learning about wine and expanding their palates.

Mark Aselstine
May 24, 2011 | Mark Aselstine

Interviews-Jim Rudnick KKT Interactive

Anyone who has started a business in the past decade or two knows how important finding online customers can be. There is a huge pool of potential customers out there, when it comes to wine clubs or wine gifts there are literally tens of thousands of searches every month on search engines. Climbing search engine rankings is one of the most important tasks for Uncorked Ventures over the long term and to that end, we’ve tried to do things the right way and create a lasting and sustainable business for ourselves. Part of that process led us to Canuck SEO and while we’re not a client, Jim Rudnick has been incredibly gracious with us. He’s been willing to answer questions and make suggestions when and where they have been appropriate. In our opinion his Canuck SEO blog is one of the best in the industry at using examples and showing how simple things, like blogging can lead to massive customer gains over the long term. In fact, this blog exists here in large part based on his suggestion and the success he’s seen based on his own blog.

As it turns out, Jim’s also an avid love wine lover as well. While we can’t currently ship wine to our neighbors to the great white north, we hope to be set up with their state controlled liquor stores in the future. For that reason, we wanted to introduce our readers to Jim and his company as well as asking him a few wine related questions.

-When did you start drinking wine?

More than 40 years ago, when the major brands up here were all sparkling whites or roses with tons of sugar….ie the days when I’d buy a Mateus from Portugal and think I was drinking heaven. Like many others I have assumed that I moved thru the normal progression of the German whites as they got less and less sweet, into the Italian chiantis and the smaller French chateaus until about 1990 or so when I discovered that wine DID taste great with a 0 sugar content. Since then, ie the last 20 years I’ve worked my way thru the European brands and their old world styling’s and then discovered the new world and it’s varietals…and can honestly say that I don’t buy much French wine anymore – oh some great ones lie in the cellar but we drink California or Australia or Argentina every day….Chile still is untouched as is most of South Africa…but we’ll get to them I’m sure… Oh, small note, that our LCBO up here “divides” the shopping of wine into country aisles…hence I tend to think of wine as a nationally based category….

-If you had one wine or winery for the rest of your life, what would it be?
Ummm…tough to answer. but at this point, I’d have to say that we love the Heitz cellar wines, the Dunn’s from Howell Mountain or the best perhaps which we still think the the Grange from Penfolds in the .au world…too too many to think of eh! if price does NOT matter, then I’d love to try a 1951 Grange Hermitage…but I’d think that there are less than 500 bottles of it in the whole world….but if you do have one, just email me and I’ll fly down to try same, eh! JJJ Oh, Barolos. It’s been my pleasure to have found some other Nebbiolo lovers and yes, I’ve had some 10+ year old Barolos. They call it the “king of wines” here…and I’d have to agree it’s pretty dang special….but it takes me like 2 hours to consume a whole bottle…the finish is so so so spectacular that I savour it over and over. Oh, Gattinara….is a small “commune” of Nebbiolo growers like a few miles away from Novara, and it’s about the BEST you’re gonna find here in our LCBO that features superb Nebbilolo wines and at great prices. Shoot, just realized that you asked me for a “single” choice…sorry!!! there’s TOO much to think about, eh!

-How does the selection and choice in Canada differ when compared to vacations either in the states or elsewhere?
Differs greatly, I’d imagine….here in .ca, the Niagara area is the focus point with yes other areas in blossom too….our far west province, BC has it’s own special areas too…and we do try to get some of that here…but as you know our LCBO buys only some items and as it’s a monolithic biz…you just cannot get what you want ‘brought in’. The LCBO has probably like 5000 wines available, and most are not for me, I do realize….as they try to cover all levels of sugar and palates….but they do have a Vintages section where you can actually get some decent .ca or .au or .it wines…..love Barolos eh! That said, when we do vacation, we always ask about local wineries…and sometimes we’re pleasantly surprised, but our trips to SF about every other year bring us to Sonoma and Napa and the wines we do truly love, eh! Must try Washington too….someday…

-If different than above, what’s your favorite Canadian winery?
Would have to say “Thirty Bench” or “Fielding” as both offer up great cabs that are top heavy with tannin and can be cellared for years….um….”Thirty Bench” is our fave right now tho…

-How has the industry changed in Canada during the past few years?
The last few years have seen wine drinking explode here – you see it in the brand new beautiful new premises for the tastings, the in-winery fine dining restaurants and yes, even small boutique hotels being added. there appears to be great “margin” in wine, I’d suspect….and that’s a good thing for our lifestyle!

-Have you had a great wine related experience? If so, what was it?
Oh, gosh….the time that I shared a glass and then a whole bottle with Lee Marvin out in Banff and then we were joined by one of Charlie’s Angels who poo-poo’d our choices and then ordered us some Chateauneuf-du-Pape that I hated? Or the time that I grabbed a bottle right out of another shoppers hands at Chateau Montelana and found out later that he was a rap star and that his bodyguard was veering across the room at me and was stopped by the rapper himself? (names changed to protect the dumb, eh!) got many such stories but doesn’t matter…all wine is fun and if shared, IMHO, it’s the “social elixir” of making friends, eh!

-Anything you’d like to add!
Oh gosh….dunno. I do know tho that all wine drinkers should be encouraged to expand their palates…to try new and challenging tastings so that their palate becomes accustomed to the varieties of bouquet and taste, of texture and tannins and in doing so, they learn “what they like” and the “whys” of that liking too! wine is fun, eh….and that’s a global hope that all will learn!

Editor’s Note: Thanks so much for the time and effort Jim. It was interesting to hear your thoughts on LCBO, which coming from someone who has spent most of his life in California seems like a very, very strange idea in itself. We have no doubt that your SEO business will continue to be successful, we certainly wouldn’t have nearly the understanding of the SEO field that we currently do without your help. Thank you for that, it is greatly appreciated given the amount of hype and confusion associated with the industry as a whole, which does sound a bit like wine where there are so many of our competitors doing things like private labels and shipping lesser wines without being up front with their customers.

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.