I wrote about my experience at Family Winemakers a few days ago, but no
I’ve been ruminating on how to move forward with Uncorked Ventures for a while now.
I survived the holiday rush.
Let’s start with some of what’s already happened. First, I hired an affiliate management company back in November. Quite hilariously, that finally officially happened from the closet of an Airbnb in Phoenix after being evacuated due to smoke. Don’t worry, it was Phoenix, so it was a damn big closet….maybe the size of my bedroom, or more than half of it at least. If you need a good affiliate program, the folks at Advertise Purple are damn good. I’m also very hopeful that the program continues to grow. Given that I attempted to grow this myself for some time and as it turns, I kind of sucked at it….it’s fun to see the program moving in the “right” direction.
Ok, so that happened.
What’s happening next? That’s more important is what happens next.
- I’ll be running a crowd funding campaign through Indiegogo in the new year. Let’s be honest, being self funded sucks sometimes. Ok, most of the time. So I’ll be working on fixing that.
- Gift Baskets. For YEARS I’ve watched and written down gift basket choices because we do sell a few of them. I continually am disappointed with the choices. I love Starbucks and Ghiradelli as much as anyone….but why is anyone paying for shipping and a retailer mark up? So these (better) gift baskets are coming. Locally sourced. High quality. Plus, the fine folks at Amazon have finally approved me to sell over there….so you’ll be able to use your Amazon Prime membership, get 2 day shipping and the whole 9 yards. Amazon doesn’t ship wine (wine’s heavy folks, it doesn’t go via air, even with Amazon’s ridiculously cheap rates that border on free)
- One point in regards to those gift baskets that I think deserves it’s own point: I’m focused on foodie gift baskets. So the focus is going to be on creating a series of “Taste Of” gift baskets. Just locally here in San Francisco there’s so much good food, Oakland too of course…..I want to find those type of products across the country.
- The wine clubs are going to continue to function much the same. Although I’ll be spending more time in wine country, which I think will continue to lead to better and better quality.
- Other than that, there’s a lot of under the hood work to do. The beginnings of a real email list. A/B testing the website to sell more wine. Ecommerce as it seems, is a never ending adventure.
I hope that’s enough going on. It seems like it over here.
Weirdest wine I’ve ever shipped? Probably not. Ok, not even close. That being said, the most obscure grape I’ve ever worked with? Almost assuredly so. Here’s some information on the Sagrantino in your monthly box.
Hi, all. Mark Aselstine with Uncorked Ventures. So I’ll hold this up so you can get a good look at it. So this is a Benessere Sagrantino. As far as wine clubs go, I think this is kind of one thing that I try be that’s a little bit different than my competitors because I want to kind of expose people to wines and grapes that they wouldn’t necessarily otherwise try.
And Sagrantino, we talked about in the newsletter, this an Italian varietal that’s really not planted anywhere outside of Italy, and this is the only planting in Napa. So, we talked a little bit in the newsletter, if you could read along, it’ll be about the grape itself and about just how Italian varietals are changing in California ’cause there’s kind of these secondary grow regions that are warmer. A lot of the colder ones are doing things differently, but if you’re a warmer growing region, it makes sense to at least attempt some Italian varietals.
And so, we’re seeing that internationally too, and I think that’s kind of a good intro to this wine. So, it grows well in Italy, you’re seeing some plantings in Australia now. United States, we had maybe 1% of the worldwide plantings. But I think as things move forward, you’re gonna continue to see grapes, this grape, and other like it planted in like South America. If you look at … People said Malbec really doesn’t react well in warm weather than when they tried it. It worked better than it does in France.
And so, I think you’re gonna see the Chileans are definitely at the forefront of, frankly, experimentation with, what do we know about this grape and can we change it. They have pinot planted at 10,000 feet in elevation, which is something that if you asked an old world producer or even an American winemaker, they would tell you it’s insane.
And so, I think you’ll see Sagrantino and other Italian varietals continue to be planted in increasing numbers and increasing variety of habitats. I think that’s one thing I hope you can take away from this month’s wine of the month club shipment that things are changing. They don’t necessarily seems like they’re changing necessarily in the wine industry because it changes so slowly. You know, if you put wine in the ground, it takes five years before you have a usable grape. But they are changing, and this is one way that they’re changing.
If you’re kind of a secondary growing region, you’re trying new things ’cause you have to because the cabernet sales are damn hard to come by. Anyway, Mark Aselstine with Uncorked Ventures, and if you’re a Special Selection of the Wine Club member, I hope you like this.
Felicette is a wine that should be available at specialty shops near you. A French import, it’s from the lesser known pays d’oc that’s a small section of the Langudoc…..yeah, yeah I know, that’s a lesser known region itself. This is the region where the French experiment though, with 300 days of sun of year and the Mediterranean there as well, it’s probably a fun visit too. Here’s my Felicette wine review:
Hi all, Mark Aselstine with Uncorked Ventures. I’ll hold this up so you can see it. Yeah, that’s astronauts, or people in space, or people walking on the moon. And if you look a little closer, that’s a cat.
So, this is the Felicette, it’s a rouge wine. A quick primer on what a rouge wine is, it’s just any red wine. And this actually comes from Southern France. This is the pays d’oc which is small fraction of the Languedoc. And so we had a few things to unpack here.
So first, this is a blend and depending on the vintage you get different percentages here of course, but this is Grenache, Sirah & Malbec. And that’s if you’re thinking that’s kind of a weird set up for a French wine, you’re a 100% correct. And that’s the first thing I wanted to talk about.
So the pays d’oc is kind of an interesting thing to know about. So this is extreme southern France, actually borders the Mediterranean on one side and the Pyrenees Mountains on another. Really what happens here is this is the warmest growing region in France and so it’s not only the warmest, but it also is the only one without any long term rules and regulations about what you’re allowed to plant.
So this is the one spot where you see people actually trying new things. And in this case you get these kind of malbec and sirah are not traditionally blended together in France. You get sirah kind of in one side in the Roan Valley and malbec on the other side in Bordeaux. And very rarely do you see Roan’s and Bordeaux’s blended together even in the United States or even in South America you know so this is kind of an interesting thing.
So that’s the other thing so the pays d’oc is a good place to look so it’s a smaller region within the Languedoc so we sometimes talk about southern France and think about the kind of sea of wine that’s gone on there and think of it as the cheap exports for their international marketing. But you also get these kind of bottles for $20 or under. That end up being great, great values. And it’s really in some ways the only place you can look and get a good value wine anymore.
So the story on the bottle, it’s named after the first French citizen to go into space and there is a wine connection here, I promise. So they put a cat up. This is like the early 60s or whatever. Evidently the cat that was training went missing or something so Felicette is the second cat and that cat went up.
So there is this kind of ongoing humor within the small ea community that there are actually more people that have gone into outer space than there are masters of wine. And that’s actually true. There’s about 550 people or so give or take, depending on how we’re counting that have gone into orbit and there’s under 400 people that have been masters of wine since it existed.
So to kind of sum all up, as we look for a good value bottles from international destinations, some of the old world can be difficult to find that kind of stuff. Generation after generation after generation kind of pass these vineyards down in France and if you want to find new winemakers, younger winemakers, newer wine making families that are trying to do new things and for lack of a better term, really move the industry forward, the Languedoc and especially the pays d’oc is one place that you can do that.
So this is a really, really well put together bottle of wine. It is just a traditional rouge. This is meant to be a house red. And it’s smooth, it’s drinkable and if [inaudible] with steak you’re not going to be upset about it. So once again Mark Aselstine for Uncorked Ventures and I hope you enjoyed maybe learning a bit about cats in outer space and a lesser known French wine region producing some pretty darn good stuff. Thanks.
First, I hope you this Apothic Red review. I’ve started doing a few of these reviews of mass marketed and mass produced wines, in large part because for my cheap wine club, this is my competition. The under $10 or so bottle purchases are the folks, that might step up to the $20 or so level, which is where wine clubs and other similar online sales models start to make more sense.
Really though, I wanted to do a Apothic Red Review, because the wine is literally EVERYWHERE. Our local Safeway: it’s on an end cap (literally the most valuable space in the store too, facing the front door with the milk directly behind it). Our local Target: same. Our local pharmacy: same.
They’ve got to be selling a ton of Apothic red and this is a really competitive marketplace, so I was interested in what this wine was, how good it was and who was actually making it.
Here’s my Apothic Red Wine Review:
Hi all, Mark Aselstine with Uncorked Ventures. So I’ll hold this up so you can get a good look at it and this is obviously not a wine that we sell but I do think it’s a good idea to have some idea about what people are actually buying and this is an Apothic red.
So I’m sure you’ve seen these at grocery store, drug store, probably if you have a local wine shop, they probably have some too. They’re just so mass-marketed and mass-sold that it’s hard to get away from it.
So this is a, to quote the back, Zinfandel, Syrah, Cabernet, and Merlot dumped in together. So it is a red wine blend. A couple things, so this range of wines that are created to be sold. This is not created to teach about a vineyard. This is not created to tell you anything about a varietal. This is strictly a wine that’s made to get you to buy it based on the bottle and then, hopefully, if you like it, to get you to buy again and again and again and to make it easy for you to find vintage non-specific.
That’s why you have these kind of, in some ways, crazy kind of mix of grapes in there. You know, Zinfandel and Cabernet never get blended together and Merlot and Syrah almost never get blended together. If you talk about Cotes du Rhone, it’s only Rhone grapes that get blended together. This is kind of a mismatch of everything. So I think it’s worth a couple minutes, ’cause this may be the most successful wine on the market today, to kind of have a look and see what’s going on.
So first, the Apothic wine label is owned by EJ Gallo and Gallo is the kind of venerable Sonoma name and they do two things. Well, first they buy wineries that are successful and, two, they are create brands and this is a brand not a winery. So this is Debbie Juergenson and Debbie’s not somebody that I know personally nor have I met. She’s the head winemaker on the project and the one thing I will give Debbie … So, when you taste this wine, this was not for me, and that’s not for me because it has residual sugar. We do different part levels and so this is about twice as sweet as Yellowtail is just to kind of put it in perspective.
I don’t tend to like much residual sugar in my wine unless it’s Riesling and so a semi-sweet, I don’t know if you know, they’ll market it as dry. Semi-sweet to most people’s palettes, red, is something that is a little off-putting for me but it’s very in-tune with the current marketplace and it’s in-tune for two ways. So first, we’re moving towards sweeter wines, two, this is the fastest-growing type of wine, these non-vineyard, non-winery specific brands and, three, the alcohol percentage on this guy, it’s like 13.5% only which is kind of a lower alcohol figure.
So you get these kind of intense grapes from regions that probably would produce a much, much higher alcohol content. They probably pick them a little bit earlier but they leave a little bit of residual sugar which not only cuts down the alcohol content but tends to smooth out the tannins. So you get this kind of semi-sweet, smooth-drinking wine for under $10. Well, I think if I’m gonna be honest with them, they think they say it’s $14 but I haven’t yet seen it not on sale so let’s call it $10. And you get this wine that if you enjoy something with some sweetness to it, this is a home run and I think you can see that in the millions of bottles sold for the Apothic wine label.
So, my Apothic red wine review is quite simply, it’s not for me ’cause I don’t like residual sugar. If you do like residual sugar, Ms. Juergenson and the folks at EJ Gallo have hit this one out of the park. If you’ve ever had any chance to hear the folks from EJ Gallo speak, this is highly researched and this is kind of [inaudible 00:03:35], they have these kind of broad consumer profiles and this is a wine made to fit a consumer profile.
So if you’re looking for a semi-sweet bottle of red tonight, the Apothic is probably easy to find and it’s a good effort even if it’s not for me.
So, once again, Mark Aselstine with Uncorked Ventures obviously not something for a Wine of the Month Club from us but I think it’s interesting to see what people are interested and who’s to say I won’t run into a semi-sweet red that I like at some point. Have a good one.
Ok, so before I go on…..this was something of a last minute trip. I have a couple of family members with consistent, recurrent, severe asthma and if you’ve been watching the news….we’ve had the worst air quality in the world locally.
Plus, my little section of the east bay simply isn’t equipped to deal with it. Few restaurants have ac. Even fewer houses. Heck, my oldest son’s elementary school doesn’t even have an air filtering system.
So, we got to get on a plane with 2 hours notice. To anywhere. Given that we’re already planning to be back in February for spring training and that my wife generally speaking, isn’t a huge fan of the desert, it’s fair to say we were desperate.
So, Phoenix was cheap with miles and the air quality is awesome (at least right now). Weather’s the same. Awesome. Although, I’m officially THAT tourist. I’m rolling around in shorts and a short sleeve shirt, haven’t showered in 4 days, haven’t shaved in a week and the locals are in puffy jackets.
A couple of things struck me about this trip though. Normally when I travel now, even for pleasure, I end up spending some time talking to local winemakers or local wine shops. I find it all interesting still after all.
Here’s some of my impressions about the wine scene in the arts district of Phoenix:
- There’s not many wine shops. I’ll have a write up and a short interview with the only one I found downtown in a few days.
- There’s not many spots to buy wine to take home. But, a TON of on premise sales. In many ways, downtown Phoenix feels like downtown San Diego. It’s an ongoing party. I’m officially both too old and the only one with kids.
- I literally cannot find a bottle of Arizona wine to buy. This is a HUGE disappointment given that the quality has been good when I’ve had a bottle. I mean, even if they’re only sourcing larger brands then ever a New Mexico bottling of Gruet should be around right? I’ve long thought that Arizona wine might be a logical 4th member of our wine clubs, but this wasn’t a good selling point for that. As an example, in either Seattle or Portland their local wines are EVERYWHERE.
A few more general observations from traveling on the west coast of late, non wine category:
- Homelessness is an issue everywhere. We’ve long begrudged the city of San Francisco for not dealing with its issue locally, but the problems in Phoenix feel more widespread and invasive, at least downtown. We didn’t make it out to the more affluent suburbs like Scottsdale (yeah, yeah I know it’s its own city, but you get my point), but the Bay Area has those too, I get that this isn’t everywhere in the state.
- Phoenix is so much less crowded than the San Diego of my childhood, or the Bay Area of my current that it’s shocking.
Ok, I’ll have some more content on Arizona wine coming shortly, There’s a lot to talk about. But really, they’ll need to start at least placing in their biggest local market before beginning to talk about major placements in spots like San Francisco or Los Angeles.
At least the weather’s been good:
In fact, there’s more than one patron saint of wine. If we look at the history of the Catholic Church, it’s largely centered on the old world wine production regions of Italy and France. In fact, that’s where the Papacy has been based over the years. Given the number of regions in both Italy and France that have depended on wine for their livelihoods, it shouldn’t be surprising that there’s a deep connection between the historical church and the industry. Even other regions of the old world take part with their own patron saint of wine, like Spain and much of eastern Europe. But, you’ll also see a heavy German connection, as the closest group of “pagans” the church had long coveted converts in German towns, those doing the work of changing religious preferences in those regions received accommodations like sainthood.
Urban of Langres: A Bishop, forced to flee in the 4th century, Langres supposedly took shelter in a vineyard and while he was there, converted some German winemakers to Christianity. As you might expect, taking refuge in a vineyard might make you more understanding of winemakers plight.
Martin of Tours: One of the more famous Catholic saints, in large part because he was among the first non martyr’s to be granted Sainthood. If he were born in the 21st century, even outside of the religious significance we’d say he lived an interesting life. Born a pagan in Hungary, he was consripted into the army, only to be released after Jesus noticed that he had given half of his cloak (winter jacket) to a homeless man. He went on to be a Bishop, of Tours, which is a city in the Loire Valley. As the most famous Bishop in the city’s history, he continues to wield special significance to winemakers in the Loire.
Morand of Cluny: At home in Alsace, a wine region that should be familar to most, Morand made a name for himself by proclaiming that the fast could be broken by eating a bunch of grapes. So, of course winemakers and vineyard owners revered a saint that was on their side. Much like the concept of not eating meat, but fish being ok on Fridays during lent (hint, the Pope that created the rule had a family connection to the fishing industry)
Amand of Maastricht: So the connection here is pretty straight forward, he spent most of his time evangelizing in wine regions throughout both France and Germany.
Goar of Aquitaine: Good luck if you can follow his life story, which includes outing a Bishop about having an illegitimate child. But, he spent most of his life working and evangelizing in German wine regions, which is the obvious connection to the industry.
St. Trifon the Pruner: I mean, come on right? Largely centered in Belgium, this falls on what as Americans we think of as Valentine’s Day. It’s also about the time of year when the first pass of a vineyard needs to take place.
St. Vincent of Saragossa: The official saint of a few towns in Spain, St Vincent didn’t really do anything for wine or winegrowers during his lifetime. Nor were the cities that he called home, home to the fledgling wine industry. Instead he may have been tortured to death with a wine press (to me, even with the wide ranging saint stories at play, seems far fetched) and his saint day makes for a good first vineyard pass and also, for a release date for Rose.
Ok, so a patron saint of wine? There’s not really a single one. Instead, there’s a collection of saints that either had some connection (real of contrived) to wine industry regions in old world Europe.
Hey, it’s the best we’ve got and these connections are going to continue to get played up over time as the industry looks for more interesting and innovative ways and reasons to bring people to the winery at times that aren’t summer, or harvest.
So does it have anything to do with my wine clubs? No, but it’s something that the industry has noticed, especially because the Catholic Church alone is like a billion people.
Ok, so this is complicated.
Beware, there’s going to be some math coming up.
There are 750ml in a bottle of wine. A case of wine has 12 bottles. If you’re keeping track, that case of wine is right at 2.378 gallons of wine in a case. Generally speaking we think of a single ton of wine crafting about 150 gallons of wine, or simply 60 cases of wine or around 720 bottles.
Ok, onto the more complicated part of the math. There are 2,000 pounds in a ton. So each of your 720 wine bottles will have 1/720th of a ton of fruit inside it. So we’re talking 2.78 pounds of grapes per bottle of wine.
But how many grapes are in that 2.78 pounds? We have pretty reliable numbers for table grapes (it’s about 80) but wine grapes see more in terms of deviation from one varietal to another. But generally, since people have counted these and weighed them over the years, we know that there are about 250 grapes per pound in terms of wine grapes.
So how many grapes are in a bottle of wine? The answer is somewhere between 600 and 800 depending on your vineyard, how much it’s watered and the type of wine that you’re drinking.
Before we go any further, if you found this through a QR code…..awesome! I want you to hear from Matt Reid, the winemaker for what’s in your glass and someone I’m happy to call a friend, before I move on. Here’s his story in his own words, explaining about People’s Wine Revolution (PWR):
Ok, so let’s get into the wine a bit since I can’t tell his story in any more detail than he can.
So, Zinfandel. First and foremost, it’s a grape that has an outsized significance in consumers minds, while winemakers have a love-hate relationship with the grape.
Even in California, there was actually more Zinfandel planted in California than Pinot Noir up until a few years back. Here’s what plantings state wide looked like back in 2014:
So why do winemakers have a lot/hate relationship with a grape that consumers obviously will purchase? Mainly, it’s because there’s something of an obsession with old vine zinfandel. For good reason too, the older Zinfandel vines get, the better the resulting wine tastes. Cheaper, newer Zin often tastes something akin to being watered down, but with all the tannins. Not a good combo.
So winemakers fret. Can they find enough old vine zin to quench your thirst? Is anyone going to ever plant Zinfandel in a region that grows grapes well, if an old vine zinfandel takes the average length of time for a vine to mature from 5 years, to over 30 years. (Heck, I had a winemaker tell me that she wouldn’t call something an old vine, until it hit 100 years old).
But, Zin in many ways is native to California. It grows and grows well in a variety of climates. From the warmest spots where we think wine grapes do well like the Sierra Foothills, to some other spots that you haven’t heard of.
Like Poor Ranch. This is Mendocino County as I often picture it and the vines are located in the town of Hopland. Hopland is a 1 stoplight kind of town. It’s the kind of place you don’t find by accident and in some ways, feels forgotten by time and modernity.
In many ways that sense of being forgotten is more than a simple sense. Back 20-30 years ago, in many regions around the state Zinfandel was getting pulled out, for Cabernet, or even (agast) Merlot. But growers in Mendocino and the Foothills, largely couldn’t make the numbers work. Sure, their grapes weren’t fetching high prices, but could they afford to go 5 years with no grapes to sell? The pay back, for these lesser known spots was too long. Plus, Hopland and the surrounding Anderson Valley was still back then at least, considered marginal. It was going to be too cold to ever grow good grapes right?
So the Zinfandel stayed planted and while the vines were aging, the marketplace turned. Pinot Noir took off. Mendocino’s wine growers came up with an innovative marketing program called Coro Mendocino that focused on Zinfandel.
Sure, Mendocino is going to be known for Pinot Noir. It boasts some of the best sites for the grape in the state, but it’s got a lot of Zinfandel. An inordinate amount of that Zin is planted on these small, family farms in obscure places.
That’s why a winemaker like Matt can find a few tons of these grapes, before others. He was looking for something specific. Zinfandel grapes that didn’t necessarily have to be old vine, but had to mimic the characteristics. As it turns out, cooler climates tend to thicken up Zinfandel the same way that vine age happens to.
Sometimes though you get lucky. Porter Ranch is home to 4 generations of the Porter family and these are some of the oldest Zinfandel vines in the state. Even if the vines are new, they’re grafted from these old vines, with many times the amount of genetic diversity needed to call it unique to this vineyard site. Originally planted back in 1880, the vineyard isn’t contiguous as you’re likely picturing in your head, instead certain family members it seems over the years has taken it upon themselves to plant some grapes. So there’s an acre here. An acre there. 3 acres on the ridge. ETC. In fact from the oldest planting to the newest, it’s at least 3 miles as the crow flies. We’re talking about a vineyard that’s both dry farmed and certified organic while being grown at elevation, three other factors that many winemakers theorize could contribute to the impression of vine age.
The size and complexity is also why Matt can buy these grapes and perhaps a larger conglomerate cannot. I’ve heard similar stories by quite a few folks in Mendocino County, that people coming from Santa Rosa seem like too much of city folk. They want a business deal for their large winery. While the people on the farm, want to sell to someone trying to do it on his or her own. That’s where Matt falls in the line and I think you’ll see that to make a wine for $18 of this quality, quite a few things had to fall into line.
Enjoy the Zinfandel. If you’ve got a steak on the BBQ, all the better.