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So About That Weather On The East Coast

bomb cyclone thanks CNN

I’ve had a number of questions in this regard, but yes, I delayed wine club shipments this past 10 days or so due to weather on the east coast.

As you might expect, when the national news leads with a story on how bad the weather is and how cold it is on the east coast, it gives me pause. I mean, they made up an entirely new name for the state of the weather, Bomb Cyclone.

Cold weather, much like hot weather, doesn’t do anything good for wine.  Think about when you leave a can of soda in your freezer, the liquid expands right?  While wine doesn’t do the exact same thing, corks tend to leak in cold weather just like they do in warm weather.

I’ve had any number of shipments ruined over the years, it’s actually a lot less than most people think.  I can’t put a percentage on it, but it’s less than the amount of wine gift baskets broken by the shipping guys tossing them around like they’re stuffed animals.  People normally do call and ask about shipping in warm weather, but in cold? Nobody has been taught to ask, which is unfortunate because you simply cannot count on a common carrier to keep the wine in some type of reasonable temperature controlled facility, or truck.  Especially if the wine is spending the weekend somewhere.

Anyway, wine’s leaving shortly!

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What’s A Shiner?

This is a Shiner

So what is a shiner?

This is a Shiner
A shiner is a bottle of wine that has been filled, but doesn’t have a label.

Why do shiners exist?

For a winery, they often end up with some extra juice and they don’t necessarily want all that extra juice to effect the price people are willing to pay for their wine.  It’s a hell of a lot easier to make a lot of wine go away if it’s in shiners, rather than if it’s in a labeled bottle. It’s also easier to sell a shiner than it is a barrel of wine, after all not every retail client has an easy way to get that wine into bottle.

Plenty of restaurants and stores do wines under their own label, which often are originally purchased as shiners.

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Why Do Some Wineries in Napa Valley Require Appointments?

Vineyard in St Helena

It’s a question that comes up from customers from time to time, why do some wineries in Napa Valley require appointments?

It comes down (largely at least) to Napa wanting to keep it’s agricultural heritage and atmosphere intact.  They don’t want every winery with set hours and then people driving up and down highway 29, stopping wherever strikes their fancy.

Requiring appointments does limit the number of wineries a consumer might visit in a given day, especially because there tends to be some educational component at these stops, or at least a tour of the property.  All told, an appointment usually requires at least an hour and possibly an hour and a half.

If you’re a consumer and you don’t have an appointment, what can you do? So there are some wineries that are just open for walk in tastings of course.  Secondly though, call the winery you’d like to visit.  While wineries in Napa Valley require appointments, there isn’t any real rule to how far in advance an appointment must be made.  Often a call can you get an appointment for the time it takes to drive to the tasting room from the winery parking lot down the street.

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How Much Wine Do You Get from a Ton of Grapes?

Sauvignon Blanc in Napa Valley Waiting to be Crushed

People are generally incredibly interested in how many grape vines they might need to produce wine, but there’s a more pertinent question often in play.

How much wine do you get from a ton of grapes?

Honestly, few of us have enough space to plant vines and make wine in our yards, so the work around like it is for many, many winemakers is to purchase grapes.

Grapes are most often sold to amateur’s and aspiring winemakers by the ton, whereas established winemakers can custom tailor framing practices in a vineyard they don’t own by paying by the acre.

It’s commonly accepted that a ton of grapes creates about 2 barrels of wine, or about 50 cases in total.  Oh, that’s right about 600 bottles of wine.

Also, if you’re interested that means that about 360,000 grapes make up that ton.

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Is Rose a White or a Red for Your Wine Clubs?

Rose Wine on the Table

For some of my Explorations Wine Club members, you’ll see a Rose showing up in an upcoming shipment.

As you might expect, people immediately wonder-where does Rose fit in when your wine club information says that I receive a white as well as, a red?

Personally speaking, we drink Rose in my house, much like a white wine, so that’s how I qualify it in my wine clubs.

In my higher priced wine clubs, I don’t think I’ve ever shipped a Rose, but if I did, it would be exceedingly rare.

For now, if you’re an Explorations Wine Club member, I’ll introduce you to Rose made from Carignane grapes from an organic farm in Sonoma, or an equivalent bottle made in Oregon from Pinot Noir grapes. I think they’re both excellent examples of a type of wine that doesn’t get the lions share of attention that it likely deserves based on the quality that is being produced.

Like a lot in the wine industry, that’s largely based on how Rose is sold, where it’s placed in wine stores and on menu’s and it’s general lack of a consistent place.  That’s too bad, because for a lot of people that might otherwise say they don’t like white wine, they’d often drink a Rose.

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2 or 3 Bottles of Wine? What Gives?

best wine clubs

I had an email come from a potential customer asking why some of my wine clubs, specially my Special Selections Wine Club and my Reserve Selections Wine Club say that they come with either 2 or 3 bottles of wine.

In actuality, of late the Reserve Selections folks have been getting 4 bottles….so it’s probably even worse than that as far as consistency.

In any case, there’s a pretty simple reason: I don’t want to be forced to find a specific bottle at a specific price.  Having some more wiggle room, allows me to source wine from the Central Coast, as opposed to always having to go to Napa Valley, where the average price is pretty much dramatically different.

If I’m being honest, there are different pricing mechanisms in play within the wine industry that come into play both for different grapes, as well as different regions.

As an example, Cabernet Sauvignon can run well over $100 per bottle from Napa Valley.  But, the equivalent quality of a bottle of Carignan made in Paso Robles, might be $45.  Having some flexibility on the number of bottles people receive, gives me more leeway to find these lesser known wine names as well as, lesser known varietals.

Quite frankly, those lesser known names are the ones that most people like best.  I’ll keep looking for them, even if it turns some people off from the wine clubs due to the lack of consistency.  It leads to better wine and I’ll continue to focus on choices that lead to better wine for my customers.

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What are the Bordeaux Varietals?

What are the Bordeaux varietals?

It’s a question that comes up from time to time around here: what are the Bordeaux varietals?

Generally speaking there are 6 grapes on the list of Bordeaux varietals:

Cabernet Sauvignon: In Bordeaux, Cabernet Sauvignon makes up the dominant percentage of wines on the left bank. The grape of course has also become in many ways the dominant red wine grape throughout the world.  The prices for high end Cabernet greatly exceed any other varietal. Pinot has caught up quite a bit, but top tier Pinot is often $65 these days, about half of an equivalent Cabernet Sauvignon.

Merlot: More important in Bordeaux than elsewhere, as it’s largely fallen out of favor in America and elsewhere over time.  That’s partially because Merlot gives higher yields in worse vineyard sites, so it slants our perception of the grape.  Which drives down prices. Which causes growers to plant Merlot in increasingly poorer and poorer vineyard locations.  Which drives down prices.  It’s a death spiral of sorts that doesn’t have to be so, largely based on the absurdly high quality of Merlot that is produced on Bordeaux’s right bank, as well as, Washington.

Cabernet Franc: Interestingly, it’s one of the parent grapes of at least 10 current production grapes, including Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot.  Generally speaking, it’s thought of as more female in characteristics.  Higher acidity and much less tannins than others on this list.

Petite Verdot: Adds color to blends and really very, very few varietal specific wines are ever made from Petite Verdot because the tannins are so overpowering. In 5+ years running my wine club, I’ve only seen a handful of 100% Petite Verdot and even those came with some sort of qualifier by other winery staff (ie, oh that’s the winemaker trying to prove that he’s smarter than everyone else, etc).

Malbec: It’s found a home in South America (much like Carmenere) and gains an international level of prominence and respect in Argentina, where it’s become their national wine grape.  The grape has a thinner skin than Cabernet or Merlot and generally need significantly more degree days to ripen fully, making it a bad fit in the cooler climates of its French homeland.

Carmenere: This is Chile’s national wine grape and shares much of the same story as Argentina and its Malbec.  Almost extinct in Bordeaux, the South Americans literally saved this grape which is one of the truly ancient wine grapes still in existence today. Yields are naturally low and cold and wet springs make Carmenere do one thing that growers despite above all others: take a vintage off.  Yes, a cold and wet spring and your vines may choose to not grow any grapes during that vintage, no matter how good your summer weather.  For that reason, South America has become a better home and other warmer climate regions like Walla Walla and Australia are experimenting with the grape. The tale here, is yet to be told.

Long story short: What are the Bordeaux varietals? There are 6 historic and accepted Bordeaux varietals: Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Carmenere, Petite Verdot, Cabernet Franc and Malbec.

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Can you Handle Non USA Credit Cards?

yes, we needed a picture of a credit card!

It’s a question that comes up occasionally, can we handle credit cards that are based outside of the United States?

It’s something we hear from customers in Canada, as well as occasionally, further afield like England.

The short answer is that yes, we can handle credit cards with different billing address setups.

The main issue, as most with non USA based cards are aware is that zip code’s in other parts of the world, aren’t always 5 digits long and are seldom made up only of numerals.

While you may run into issues placing your order directly in our checkout process-this is something that I am happy to help you with over the phone.

I’m also constantly looking for ways to improve our checkout process, accepting credit cards with different billing zip codes, would be one way to do that to be sure.

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What Percentage of Wine Bottles Are Recycled?

what percentage of wine bottles are recycled?

I am writing some about wine vs craft beer and came across an interesting statistic. First, I’ll ask you, what percentage of wine bottles are recycled do you think?

Personally, I figured the number was at least 75% based on where I live.  But then again I remember that my wife’s relatives in Texas I’m pretty sure get take out in Styrofoam still.

It turns out that soda and beer bottles are recycled 41% of the time.  Wine bottles, only about 34% of the time.

If you’re wondering why….as I was, evidently in some areas of the country you can get paid to recycle.  We simply throw everything into our recycling bin, but I remember taking bags of soda cans and getting paid for them as a kid….so I guess that’s still the case in much of the country.

So it’s disappointing on a few levels. First and foremost, the wine industry does need a consistent climate to thrive and our activities, shipping heavy things often thousands of miles doesn’t exactly help that.  Global warming is real and the wine industry stands to lose more than most. Plus, as an industry. we’re not exactly carbon friendly.  Vines have often replaced forest, etc.

Also, so glass, unlike most materials can be recycled an endless number of times, without any loss in quality.

If you recycle an extra bottle per week, you’d effectively be saving the same amount of energy that it takes to run a fluorescent light bulb for about 15 days.

Part of all this came up because I know a few people within the industry are working to try and both encourage recycling rates, but also to take a bit from craft beer and allow growlers to be filled at your local winery.  In Oregon, that’s already the case.

Washington State has some legislation that goes much further though, they’d allow local retailers and anyone with an alcohol permit to fill your growlers. It’s one of those things that I think is a common sense solution as packaging eats up such a high percentage of the total price of a bottle of wine.  We’ve seen increased quality of bulk wine and keg wine programs over the last decade and instead of driving these cheaper sales to major manufacturers like Bronco Wine Company and their range of under $5 labels at your local supermarket, your local winery might fill your growler for a reasonable fee.

The industry is talking about this, partially of course because it’s good for the industry and partially because many of our customers do deeply care about this stuff.  You’ll see some of the bigger wineries lead the way, but Washington and Oregon are already helping the cause and I’m willing to be that if you ask what percentage of wine bottles are recycled a few years from now, the number will be significantly larger than it is today. No matter your political persuasion, that’s plain common sense.

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2 Customer Questions Re: Gift Baskets

A couple of customer questions, answered

So I took a brief call with a few customer questions regarding a possible gift basket purchase and thought I’d relay them here:

  • Can I specify what type of wine I’d like in a basket?
    • Yes! There is a section for “order notes” and that’s the perfect spot to relate anything you’d like to in regard to the wine in your gift basket purchase. You can ask for a specific varietal of wine like Pinot Noir, Cabernet or something more obscure like the request this morning: Tempranillo.  You can also, if you think it’s important, tell us a bit about the style of wine you, or your gift recipient enjoys. Stuff like liking the Sonoma Coast or hating the Central Coast, is helpful.  I want you to be happy with what you receive, communication helps.
  • Is this going to arrive for Christmas?
    • It depends.  We’re based just outside of San Francisco so the east coast shipment deadline has already passed, it was about 6pm Friday.  For the rest of the country, we can ship your gift basket the same day you order it, so it should be there in time.  Please allow us the usual caveat’s that we use UPS, so if they’re slow or delayed there isn’t much I can do about it, after all, we aren’t exactly their biggest account.
      • If you are shipping to the east coast, we’re still shipping the same day orders are received.  UPS doesn’t take ground shipments on weekends and generally doesn’t move packages on weekends, but I am at least slightly hopeful that they’d deliver some ground packages on Saturday of next week, given it’s Christmas Eve.

In any case, thank you for your support during this holiday season. I hope you enjoy the wine and the stories behind it!