Today is the day. I can’t deny it anymore, I simply can’t. It’s time to throw a retirement party for Wilma. Just days after my 51st birthday, I’m ready to throw in the towel. Not on life, just on blogging! Let me explain.
Six years ago, and 229 posts ago, I started this blog using my pseudonym Wilma. It was over lunch with Jim Laube from Wine Spectator that the idea started percolating. I remember it vividly. We met so he could taste new releases while I shared my vision for Dry Creek Vineyard. With my father in retirement, and the second generation firmly in charge, we had a whole new vision plan – driven by a passionate desire to make wines that would command respect and be recognized among the finest in the region. And I wanted Jim to know! Mass marketed brands were my nemesis and I was hell-bent set on doing everything possible to avoid the homogenous vacuum that seemed to be sucking up so many of my family-owned winery counterparts. As I shared my story, I was able to describe firsthand the trials and tribulations of a lifetime in the wine industry since I had literally grown up in it. With each passing sip, Jim became more and more engrossed. His words of encouragement to share my story via a blog did not go unnoticed. Thank you Jim.
I chose the name Wilma’s Wine World because I wanted a separate identity from the winery. I needed a voice to share “an insider’s look at the wine country life,” a site where I could openly and honestly communicate to readers. I had survived countless family squabbles, distributor consolidations, economic crisis, weather challenges, personnel issues, and just about everything else one will encounter if they stay in this industry long enough. My main source of material was day to day life. Things were a bit crazy then. The Husband was President, I was Vice President, my father was on the retirement sidelines watching with a skeptical eye, and we had a newly established Board of Directors. My son Spencer was a rambunctious pre-teen and daughter Taylor a precocious teenager. I was the poster child for much of the female population: a stressed-out working mom with the Great Recession looming ahead. A decade of hard work had gone into making many qualitative improvements that would re-define the winery including: new vineyards, new wines, new barrels, new equipment, new people, new business practices, new packaging, and new software. Things were more or less in place and it was time to reintroduce the world to the undeniably delicious, exceptionally high quality wines of the NEXT GENERATION! A blog seemed like a good place to begin.
Today, I’m proud that Dry Creek Vineyard is one of the few iconic, truly authentic brands left in the wine business. I’m proud of the unsurpassed quality of our wines and the dedication of our team. I’m proud of all this and much, much more. Our winery is a recognized leader in the industry with a legion of loyal followers. We are a destination spot for tourists and wine lovers alike. And yet, our job is not done. We are constantly raising the bar, striving for the next brass ring. And, we can never stop or rest on our laurels… not even for a split second. That is why Wilma must retire. I just can’t “do it all” like I used to think I could.
Two years ago I took over as President. The Husband is at my side offering support and encouragement. Grandpa is happily retired with time for his interests in music, art, travel and philanthropy. My wonderful staff is made up of a group of dynamic, loyal, hard working folks who embrace the family business concept, making important and lasting contributions each and every day. It’s a system that works as evidenced by the many great press reviews, endorsements, and customers we have around the world. For all of that, I am grateful.
So with the launch of our new website (a project that’s been a year in the making!) it seems timely for Wilma to retire from blogging. Stay tuned… a new “winery blog” will emerge in the coming months. In the meantime, THANK YOU TO ANYONE WHO HAS EVER READ THIS BLOG!
This is one of my favorite times of year. There’s a chill in the air and everyone seems to be in a festive mood… even if they might feel a bit stressed about the holidays. Another reason I love this time of year is all the goodies that we get to eat! Family recipes, especially, are important as they carry on the tradition and legacy from generation to generation. I definitely have my own which I’ve shared in the past. This time, I thought it would be fun to share a family recipe from one of our employees – Sara Rathbun. Sara has a new little one at home so I wonder whether she even has time to make these delicious bars, but the recipe just sounded too good not to share!
Sara: This is my grandmother Iris’ Pumpkin Chiffon Bars recipe. In my family, you are either a pumpkin pie person or a pumpkin chiffon person and there are definite arguments over which side you are on, and who gets the last piece. It’s something that not a lot of people have heard of before, and usually I get asked for the recipe after they taste it. I make this every year in memory of my grandmother, and this year is especially meaningful as my daughter, Mila Iris, shares her name.
There’s been a slow transformation taking place behind the winery and my house these last couple of months. If you’ve driven over Lambert Bridge you might have even seen it. In a way it looks like a moonscape…or something otherworldly. Tall trees stick out of the earth with their roots reaching to the sky. Large pieces of equipment are scattered here and there. Boulders are bolted together in piles.
The Dry Creek Habitat Enhancement Demonstration Restoration Project is a partnership between the Sonoma County Water Agency, the Army Corps of Engineers, and landowners along the Dry Creek designed to build a fish friendly habitat. It includes bank stabilization and erosion control along with the development of environmentally friendly spawning pools for endangered species such as Steelhead Trout and Coho Salmon. So far, they’ve completed one mile–not a small feat when you consider 1000s of cubic yards of dirt were removed from a once abandoned channel. That’s a lot of truckloads. Eventually, the county plans to complete a six mile corridor spanning the Dry Creek.
This federallyfunded project is a perfect example of the government and the privatesector working hand in hand for a positive outcome. The project commenced some years ago when the county first approached The Husband to flesh out their ideas which included access to our property. Many meetings and negotiations later, access was granted along with an overwhelming endorsement from dear old hubby. At first I was skeptical, but why not? What’s good for the environment is surely good for us and there’s no doubt this will have a positive impact over time.
As a child growing up on West Dry Creek Road, I remember the fears of flooding and erosion that we had about the Dry Creek. Bank reinforcement was illegal yet farmers who owned land along the creek often placed old car bodies, tires and other material along the edges to avoid erosion. It was not a pretty sight let me tell you!
Today, we are fortunate that in addition to creating an environmentally friendly fish habitat, we also benefit from the anchored log jams and bank stabilization that will prevent our land from washing away.
The project came to fruition today with the release of 2000 juvenile salmon into the creek. What a sight to behold! By 2020 when the total project is complete, Dry Creek Valley may be known for its wine – and its fish.
I’ll remember this year’s harvest in one word: fast. After our first load of Chenin Blanc grapes arrived, so did every other varietal. Seemingly in the blink of an eye we were discussing our last lot of Cabernet Sauvignon still hanging on the vine. The initial report from our winemaking team is that quality will be high across all varietals. Comparison wise, we had very similar growing conditions as last year. The summer season was dry, with moderate temperatures and during harvest we had almost perfect weather for extended hang time.
This past week, we had a unique opportunity to come together to harvest the very last of the fruit still hanging on the vine. Each year we keep our fingers crossed that we will be able to produce a late harvest wine. For the past several vintages, that has not been the case. In 2013, however, Winemaker Tim was able to find a small block of Sauvignon Blanc and Semillon grapes in our DCV2 vineyard, just behind the winery and bordering Dry Creek. Having “noble rot”, the fancy viticulture term for Botrytis, these grapes achieved remarkable concentration and honeyed characters. Attaining natural Botrytis is a tricky proposition. Growing conditions have to be perfect with rain being an important factor at just the right time. In addition, extended hang time is key – the more hang time, the happier the grapes become!
In the early morning hours, our cellar crew headed to the vineyard for some “bonding time” to harvest these beautiful bunches. Noble rot may not look sexy but the wine that is produced certainly is. For those that have tried our Soleil Late Harvest Sauvignon Blanc and Semillon blend, I’m sure you’ll agree that this sultry wine is intense and concentrated with wonderful honeysuckle and lavender nuances. I absolutely adore this wine as a finishing course during Thanksgiving when I always make my signature Parmesan Apple Pie.
With harvest now in our rear view mirror, we’re all looking forward to some much needed R&R and the warmth of the upcoming holiday season.
I feel like my
life has been on hold these past few days. This is a busy time of
year in the wine business, and there are so many things I should be
worried about right now… harvest, grape tonnage, sales projections
during October/November/December, planning for 2014, the list goes
on and on. But oh no…this past week it’s been all about the
If someone had
told me two years ago that I would be sipping DCV wines overlooking
the finish line of the 34th America’s Cup, from the
privacy of the Artemis Racing VIP lounge no less, I never would have
believed it. But there I’ve been, sharing this rare experience with
as many people as I could.
though. Yesterday I hit the streets with thousands of other fans
for the unprecedented win by Oracle Team USA. I’ve never seen
anything quite like it. Two weeks ago, it seemed inevitable that
Emirates Team New Zealand would take the Cup. In fact, many
Americans and even San Franciscans, were generally more favorable
toward the Kiwi team than the American. But something shifted and a
winning streak ensued. To have been witness to this historic event,
a first in sailing history, is quite something.
I am extremely
proud to have had our winery play a small part in all of this. It
took a lot of work, but it was worth it. But mostly I’m grateful
for the contacts made, the friendships forged and the opportunity to
share the excitement with customers, friends and family. Wow. It’s
times like this that I pinch myself as a reminder of how much I love
my job, our wines, our brand and all that we stand for here at Dry
Creek Vineyard. Now, I can truly say we are indeed the “Official
Wine of Sailors!”
I feel like my life has been on hold these past few days. This is a busy time of year in the wine business, and there are so many things I should be worried about right now… harvest, grape tonnage, sales projections during October/November/December, planning for 2014, the list goes on and on. But oh no…this past week it’s been all about the America’s Cup!
If someone had told me two years ago that I would be sipping DCV wines overlooking the finish line of the 34th America’s Cup, from the privacy of the Artemis Racing VIP lounge no less, I never would have believed it. But there I’ve been, sharing this rare experience with as many people as I could.
Not yesterday though. Yesterday I hit the streets with thousands of other fans for the unprecedented win by Oracle Team USA. I’ve never seen anything quite like it. Two weeks ago, it seemed inevitable that Emirates Team New Zealand would take the Cup. In fact, many Americans and even San Franciscans, were generally more favorable toward the Kiwi team than the American. But something shifted and a winning streak ensued. To have been witness to this historic event, a first in sailing history, is quite something.
I am extremely proud to have had our winery play a small part in all of this. It took a lot of work, but it was worth it. But mostly I’m grateful for the contacts made, the friendships forged and the opportunity to share the excitement with customers, friends and family. Wow. It’s times like this that I pinch myself as a reminder of how much I love my job, our wines, our brand and all that we stand for here at Dry Creek Vineyard. Now, I can truly say we are indeed the “Official Wine of Sailors!”
Lately, I feel like I’ve been a part of a Christopher Cross music video. You know the song – “Sailing, takes me away to a place…..” I suppose that’s not such a bad thing! With the America’s Cup on the San Francisco Bay, we’ve been doing a lot of entertaining.
This past week, we kicked off the first of a series of sailing adventures aboard the 70 foot scow schooner, the Gaslight. Based out of Sausalito, CA, this incredible boat was lovingly built by hand by Captain Billy Martinelli. Our event began with a beach party right on the water near the dock. Guests arrived and were outfitted with Wine for Sailors wind shirts and a souvenir wine glass. Wine and appetizers were served and the Steel Jam band provided the tunes as we all warmed up for our big day on the Bay.
After shoving off, we motored out of the harbor and then hoisted sails and made our way to the starting line for the Louis Vuitton semi-final match between Artemis Racing and Luna Rossa Prada. Let me tell you, it was an adrenaline pumping experience to see these boats in action! They are truly technological marvels. The Artemis Racing AC72 measures 72 feet and has a fixed wing sail that stands 134 feet tall. The sail itself is a work of art – it is longer than the wing of a Boeing 747 and employs similar airplane wing technology in its design. The sailors themselves are outfitted with 40 pounds of gear wearing Kevlar jackets, breathing apparatuses, GPS locators and carrying 50 feet of climbing rope. During racing action, these guys are in a virtual sprint, operating at their max heart rate of 190 beats per minute. The sailing world has never seen anything like this.
At the starting line, each of the boats jockeyed for position trying to beat the other to the gun and be in a good position for the first mark. That’s when it really got exciting. As the boats headed down wind, they picked up speed like high performance sports cars. Each of them went up on their foil which essentially causes the entire catamaran to come out of the water and “fly” across the top of the Bay. Within seconds, they were traveling at speeds topping 45 mph! For the next 50 minutes, we worked to position ourselves so we could see the live racing action. It was quite thrilling for all of us on board to see these high performance boats being sailed by world class, Olympic caliber sailors.
As our day wound down, we all relaxed aboard the Gaslight swapping stories and sipping delicious Dry Creek Vineyard wines. Everyone left having a new appreciation for the sport of sailing and with memories to last a lifetime. Personally, I can hardly wait for our next sail!
In my experience, success in the wine industry takes a long term view. From growing grapes, to making wine, to all the sales and marketing expertise that goes into getting the bottles from the winery to the market, well…it doesn’t happen overnight. So it was with much pride that I finally experienced the results of nearly 2 years of effort that went into getting Dry Creek Vineyard involved with the America’s Cup. Just last month, we announced our partnership as the official wine for Artemis Racing, Challenger 34thAmerica’s Cup. This was a personal mission of mine as the “Official Wine for Sailors” with over 30 years of sailboats on our wine labels and involvement in the sport.
On Sunday, I entertained a group of handpicked winery VIPs at the exclusive digs of the Artemis Racing Hospitality Club at Pier 27 of America’s Cup Park in San Francisco. Talk about fun! We learned the history of the world’s oldest sporting event, chatted with legendary sailor and team CEO Paul Cayard and watched Team New Zealand kick the pants off of Luna Rossa from Italy. (I’m not sure that’s the language I should be using but you get the point!) In between, we were wined and dined and served none other than an array of delicious Dry Creek Vineyard wines. I felt like a mom bursting with pride. While it’s just the beginning of the Louis Vuitton Cup, already I’m feeling good about our partnership with this team. They have worked hard to bounce back from the tragic death of one of their sailors and untimely destruction of their boat. Now, their hope is to begin competing next week in the Louis Vuitton Semi Finals. Are they the underdog? You bet. But in many respects they remind me of our family winery – a team dedicated to the absolute integrity of their product, filled with passion and commitment to survive the choppy waters ahead. And like us, you just never know…they might go on to surprise the world!
So you know how we love to sail…right? Well, we are finally in the midst of our “Wine for Sailors” marketing campaign centered around the start of the 34th America’s Cup which, for the first time ever, has come to San Francisco Bay. When I first found out that the world’s oldest sporting event would be held in our backyard the summer of 2013, I just knew we had to leverage our longstanding reputation as the official “Wine for Sailors.” Over the years, we’ve supported all kinds of sailing affiliations, from my father’s involvement with the Tall Ship Californian and Nautical Heritage Society back in the mid 80s, to his sponsorship of Sonoma State University’s first ever sailing team (SSU student Peter Holmberg went on to become an America’s Cup skipper and Olympic medalist) to our long standing partnership with US SAILING and our sponsorship of umpteen regattas and sailors around the country. Heck, we even made a wine called “Sailor’s Chardonnay” back in 1985.
Flash forward to 2013. First up to celebrate our authentic love of sailing was to design and trademark a spiffy new logo. Secondly, we developed an assortment of display materials, sailing merchandise, and commemorative bottlings to help draw attention to our wines. A lot of wineries are trying to jump on the ship (pun intended!) but there isn’t anyone who has featured sailboats on their labels for over 30 years! Lastly, was the formation of a relationship with one of the America’s Cup teams. Just last week, we announced our sponsorship of the Challenger of Record-Artemis Racing. CEO Paul Cayard is a Bay Area sailing legend and former America’s Cup skipper and Olympic champion, so to be an official supplier of the team is a huge source of pride for us. Besides, access to yummy Dry Creek wines can only help their performance right?!
All of these projects have finally come to fruition and I am so proud that Dry Creek Vineyard will have a presence at this illustrious international event. In addition, we’ll be providing an assortment of VIP hospitality activities all centered around our favorite sport. So whether you’re a wine club member, distributor, or member of the trade, we’ve got something for you.
I have written thousands, if not tens of thousands of thank you cards over the years — to wine stores, to restaurants, to distributors, you name it. I just got done with another couple of dozen on my last airplane headed home. It’s a lost art form that I’ve always felt personalizes my interactions with our customers and one that I hope sticks out in the recipient’s mind. But does it really?? With all the research conducted in the wine industry, someone should really do a study to see if any more wine is actually sold as a result of a sending a thank you vs omitting this step in the wine sales process. I’d love to know the answer.
Here’s how I’d go about it if I was in charge of the study:
Take a random sampling of accounts visited in a major US market and divide them into three distinct categories. Category A would receive a well written, polite and thoughtful thank you note following a sales call by a winery owner. Category B would receive a somewhat terse and bluntly honest note recounting the actual details of the visit. “Dear Joe, while I enjoyed the bagels in your state, frankly it really ticks me off that you claim you don’t have a spot for our Fume Blanc… especially with summer right around the corner.” And lastly, send no note or acknowledgement of the visit to the remaining portion of the accounts visited. Repeat this for several times throughout the year or throughout your career, whichever comes first. Then check the sales figures and accounts sold information provided by the distributor in that market to see if there was any impact as a result. In other words, did my efforts make any difference??
Personalization and authenticity in the wine business is becoming a thing of the past. I guess that’s why I continue to write these silly little notes, thank you’s and the like. But between you and me, I wonder if it makes all that much of a difference anymore.
Hmm… we will see when I get next month’s accounts sold information.
I can honestly think of no better place on earth right at the moment than being here in the Dry Creek Valley. The vineyards have begun their seasonal growing cycle and new green buds have leaped toward Mother Nature’s warmth. The hillsides are aglow with emerald green from winter rains and warm temperatures have greeted us early this year bringing out an abundance of wild flowers. Sometimes it takes getting away to truly appreciate where you live.
This past week, I was traveling back East for business. The weather was still a tad cold and gray. My family in the northeast has experienced an especially difficult winter with record snowfalls. I’m glad to have missed all that excitement, but heading “home” always reminds me of what a crazy, busy bustle other parts of our country are. I think sometimes I take for granted living where we live. It’s really a cornucopia of life’s best things – wine, food, agriculture, art and people. Of course, my roots are from the East Coast, but let me tell you, getting on that plane to come home to California never felt so good!
This is our year. Our year to shine. I’m totally convinced of it. Why? There are lots of reasons, not the least of which is that our wines taste better than they ever have, but that’s not what’s on my mind this evening. My thoughts are about wine and sailing. Dry Creek Vineyard is the Wine for Sailors and this year is one of the most exciting in recent memory for sailing in the Bay Area.
You see, this year, the America’s Cup is coming to the City by the Bay. Needless to say, we sailors are pretty enthused. After all, this is sailing’s equivalent of the World Cup – it’s our Olympics. The America’s Cup only happens once every four years and the fact that, this summer, they are racing on the San Francisco Bay is really exciting. As many of you know, our wines have carried the brand mark of sailing since we released the 1982 David S. Stare Reserve Merlot/Cabernet Sauvignon blend. I remember how the idea came to us like it was yesterday. The Husband and I were sailing around on the Bay with my father and it was what sailors refer to as being in the “doldrums”. It was gloriously sunny so we decided to anchor off of Angel Island and soak up the sun. As the story goes, we were bobbing around and about the second or third bottle of Fume Blanc in, the brainstorming session began. How could we spruce up the packaging? Should we try something new? None of us want to take credit for the actual idea but somehow we decided that our passion for wine and passion for sailing needed to merge – and what better place than on a wine label for a brand called Dry Creek? There was something ironic and humorous that struck us that day–so off I went to try to marry the two.
I raced back up to Sonoma County and we started going through old sailing books looking for images that struck us. We commissioned a local artist named Michael Surles to paint an original sail boat painting that would eventually grace one of our labels. Needless to say, the idea has worked and Dry Creek Vineyard has been known as the Wine for Sailors ever since. Dozens of labels later and we still work with Michel Surles for all of our original artwork.
I can’t think of a more special time for our winery than in 2013 with the premier event in our sport coming right to our doorstep. We have a ton planned – some of which I can’t divulge at the moment. We’ll be doing some sailing for sure including several outings on a beautiful 80 foot yacht called the Gas Light. And our Wine for Sailors campaign will include some cool displays at local retailers and restaurants.
Sailing and Dry Creek have been linked for more than 30 years. This is our year and I’m so excited for the festivities to begin!
If you’re like me, open that bottle night may be every night of the week! But seriously, Open That Bottle Night (OTBN) is an annual event started more than 20 years ago by Wall Street Journal wine columnists Dorothy Gaiter and John Brecher. The idea was simple – find and drink a special, older bottle of wine that you might not otherwise touch. It was their effort to get readers to drink some of these “moldy oldies” or wines stashed in the cellar that had been waiting for that perfect occasion. Now retired, Dottie (as she likes to be called) and John are still living out the tradition of OTBN on the third Saturday of February each year.
I’ve always admired Dottie and John. They are some of the best wine writers in the industry. Their prose was always candid and honest. And their writing style was as open to their readers as their love affair with each other. You see, Dottie and John have shared 40 years of what has obviously been an enduring romance and love for each other. Often, their lovey-dovey ways spilled onto the pages of their wine column which always struck me -The Husband and I have been married (well, we’ve been married for a long time) and I still feel those pangs of passion and love for him to this day. I can relate and appreciate their feelings for each other.
Dottie and John’s recent OTBN included a bottle of our 1973 Petite Sirah – the inaugural vintage of this wine and the very first vintage of red wines in our history. It was also the year they met. How special! They still have an outlet for OTBN on PalatePress.com. You can read Dottie’s recap of their memorable night with our Petite Sirah here: http://palatepress.com/2013/02/wine/open-that-bottle-night-wrap-up/.
I’m a sucker for a great love story and as love affairs go in the wine industry, Dottie and John’s story has to be right up there with the best of them.
I feel like a little kid with the excuse “my dog ate my homework.” Only in this case, I’m neither a child nor is blogging the same as homework! Nonetheless, the fact that I’ve had a lengthy hiatus from writing this blog was brought to my attention by a loyal wine club member at an event last Saturday.
I was hoping no one would notice. Although secretly, I guess I feel honored that anyone would really care whether there’s regular content on Wilma’s Wine World or not. Truth be told, I’ve been frightfully busy the first 6 weeks of 2013, coupled with a complete lack of inspiration. Every time I sit down to try to write, I find myself covering the same topics or simply griping about the state of the wine industry…yes, I think you know by now that I miss the good ole days! (Less competition, fewer brands, more attentive distributors, etc.)
Now, I just learned that we’ve got even MORE competition–from Brad and Angelina. That would be Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie. I kid you not! Here is the article straight from our industry’s favorite news source:Wine Business. The fact that Brad and Angie (yep, I can call her that ’cause we go way back…check out this photo!) have entered the industry is another sign that the proliferation of brands and labels doesn’t appear to be going away anytime soon. People from all walks of life have a fascination for the art of winemaking–but often, with little to no common sense as to how the product actually gets sold in the three tier system. Which means I’ll be on a plane or in front of a distributor sales force telling our brand story a lot this year. (Ironically, I’m at the Southwest terminal this very moment.) Just since January 1, I’ve done this in the following cities: Los Angeles, Ft. Lauderdale, New Orleans, Dallas, Denver and Phoenix. Next month I’ll do it again in Los Angeles, hoping that at least one or two people find my wines and what I have to say compelling enough to present our wines to the buyers of today’s top restaurants and wine shops. Hmm, I wonder if Angelina intends to do this? Maybe I should offer to help?
Meanwhile, back at the winery things are humming along smoothly. There’s a spring in people’s step and a lot of excitement for the year to come. We have so many exciting things planned! We’re creating several new one-of-a-kind wines for our wine club members and getting ready to bottle our single vineyard selections. We’ve launched our new Zin Lover’s Club and are preparing a major overhaul to our website and ecommerce site. We’re developing a marketing campaign to leverage our reputation as the “Wine for Sailors” and will be pouring our wines at the America’s Cup which commences in the SF Bay later this summer. Our electric car charging station is installed and we’re fine tuning our specialized education tours and tastings offered to the public. We are BUSY! But, it’s always a good time to visit, especially now with the weather so beautiful and the crowds minimal.
Please stop in and say hello if you make it our way!
If someone had told me five years ago that The Husband and I would switch places and I would become President of the winery, I would have said “No way”. Who on earth would want that job? It’s tons of work, it’s tremendously stressful, and it’s a completely thankless job. Forget it, it’s not worth it. And you know what? A lot of that is true. But… I have to tell you, I have loved every minute of it this year, much to my great delight.
It didn’t start out that way. On day one, I had to fire a long time distributor, run by people I’ve known for practically my entire life. Talk about stressful. Not to mention sad. But I had no choice, as I had to support V2 Wine Group, our new national sales agency we had hired to be responsible for our wholesale business. This was a decision they had recommended and I felt I needed to support that. The year has been full of choices like that – not always easy ones, but always in the best interest of the company. And that is what truly comes naturally to me – doing what is in the best interest of this company. Because quite simply – I care. I care a lot. I care about our past. I care about our future. And I care deeply about everyone involved with the winery. This should come as no surprise to anyone – I take my role here very seriously.
So while business is still a challenge, and competition in the wine industry is the toughest I’ve ever seen, we have SO much to be thankful for. Our wine quality is at an all time high, our direct to consumer business is at an all time high, and the talent and dedication of our staff is at an all time high. We’ve made it on the radar screen of some of the industry’s most respected wine critics, including the Wine Spectator who not only rated our Mariner at 91 points, and our winery as “One of the best places to visit”, but also gave us prime coverage (and the only non-Napa winery to obtain this) in their “Class of ’72” story saying we “make an assortment of excellent red and white wines”. The fact that my name was also mentioned was icing on the cake and the summation of many years of hard work.
So, as we end the year 2012 together, the year of our 40th Anniversary, I am so proud of the wonderful culture we have created here, the sense of pride that prevails within these walls, and the unique and increasingly rare breed that we are: one of California’s truly iconic, pioneering, family owned wineries.
Thank you for your support, loyalty, and friendship.
Contrary to popular belief, it’s not all roses and daisies working in the wine industry. In fact, this business can humble you in ways you never thought possible. And I don’t mean humble in a bad way. I just mean bring you back down to earth. Sort of like a reality check. Recently, I had one such occasion to be reminded of just how challenging and competitive the wine sales world is.
As part of our ongoing relationship with key retailers across the San Francisco Bay Area, we were fortunate enough to be selected as a wine feature during November and December at Mollie Stone’s. For those of you that don’t know, Mollie Stone’s is a wonderful gourmet grocery store and they do a fantastic job. For Dry Creek to be given prime spotlight during the holiday selling period is a wonderful thing. As part of our feature, we also agreed to do a series of in-store demos at each of the Mollie’s locations. Being a team player and the winery cheerleader, of course I had my hand in the air right away to pour at one of the stores. As I made my way down (on a Friday afternoon grinding through traffic) I told myself that I was going to have a positive attitude. You see, sometimes, what initially sounds like a good idea, doesn’t so much feel that way when the time rolls around to actually do the deed. Nonetheless, I was determined to make this a positive experience.
Upon arriving at the store, I was given my area to pour wine. It was very small and due to ABC regulations, I had to have people who wanted to taste step “inside the ropes.” That, and I had to check every single ID plus make customers sign a sheet of paper saying they acknowledged that what they were tasting is alcohol. Well duh! Government bureaucracy at its finest. Anyway, as the night began, I found that most shoppers were, well, they were focused. After all, it’s a Friday night, folks are headed home and they just want to grab their dinner fixings and get home as soon as possible. Not that I could blame them – I’d be the same way. But, hey I’m the wine guy – I’ve got wine to taste here! I found myself seeking recruits in the aisles – “Sir/Miss – I’ve got some terrific wines over here to taste! Trust me, you’ll want to taste them!” A few people raised their eyes and kept moving. Some looked at me like I had horns on my head. One guy said he was a recovering alcoholic. Whoops. After a while, I started to get discouraged. Did no one like wine in this store? Did I smell bad? As the night wore on, people began to loosen up and I did have a few people taste and actually sold some wine. Short of me throwing myself in front a shopping cart – it was pretty hard to get people to stop and spend a minute with me.
In the end, it was a good experience. But humbling. Definitely humbling. I can say one thing – from now on, I am going to be endlessly nice to all those free sample people in Costco because I know what they go through!
There aren’t too many pats on the back at the top. Not too many “well dones”, “great work”, or “thanks for a job well done”. It’s just assumed that the boss man, or in this case, the boss lady doesn’t really need positive reinforcement like the rest of the troops. Thankfully, I’ve always been extremely self motivated. I get my kudos from watching projects come to fruition, receiving feedback from our customers, and reading wine reviews that are positive. Helping my staff develop and watching teamwork in action is also a big warm and fuzzy feeling for me because I know I’ve made a positive difference in the lives of others.
So when it was brought to my attention that the legendary James Laube, Senior Editor of Wine Spectator, mentioned my name in a December 15 article on the Class of ’72, my heart burst with pride. It was just six years ago that I sat down with him to share my vision for our family winery. I told him where The Husband and I wanted to take the business and the improvements we were making to bring our wine quality and business practices to an entirely new level. In fact, that’s when he encouraged me to start this blog – to chronicle the life and times of a “wine country insider”.
Wow. Now, he’s acknowledged the work we’ve done by actually including Dry Creek Vineyard in his story–the only winery from Sonoma County. Furthermore, he feels we make “an assortment of excellent reds and whites”. I’m immediately inclined to share it with my Pop. Because deep down inside, we’re all trying to get our parent’s approval, right? I’m no different. I hope he’ll swell with pride as much as I am right now. Ah…it feels good. Rest assured, I won’t let it go to my head though. I’m not like that. But just for a minute, as I prepare for Thanksgiving, I’m feeling mighty happy and proud. And thankful – very, very, thankful.
I hope you have a wonderful Thanksgiving. And, I hope someone tells you “well done” too!
For about three years now (or maybe it’s been longer, I can’t keep track) we’ve been thinking about crafting a new wine. This wine would be the sister wine to our Bordeaux-style blend we call The Mariner. This would be a white blend produced using Bordeaux grapes, most likely Sauvignon Blanc with a firm dollop of Semillon. The whole thing makes sense to us given our passion for Meritage wines and blending, plus white Bordeaux would be oh so delicious and fun to have around the winery.
With the abundance of this year’s harvest, we think now might be the right time to create this wine. So, this past week, our team sat down to taste through a dozen different White Bordeaux or White Meritage blends from around California as well as several from Bordeaux, France. What we found was quite interesting and dramatic – wines that ranged from incredibly appealing to a wine that literally smelled like bilge water. We broke the flight into six different wines and tasted blind, as we always do. Overall, I was impressed with the line up – especially one wine from Napa that was 90% Sauvignon Blanc and 10% Semillon. It was really one of the better white wines I’ve tasted in months. It’s purity of fruit; its balance and finesse were all very impressive. It was truly a stand out wine. In that same flight was a god-awful wine as well – one that did in fact smell like bilge water. Now, I don’t go around smelling bilge water every day but good grief this wine was bad. I often wonder – what are people thinking? Do they know their wines are THIS bad? I’d hate be the one on the other end of the phone fielding customer service calls for this plonk. Anyway, the next flight of six wines was good, although not quite as memorable. There was one wine, again, which shall remain nameless that was a standout for all the WRONG reasons. First, it was not a good wine. Secondly, it was $66 dollars and sporting a CALIFORNIA appellation. Now that takes some serious guts (or something else) to charge that kind of price for a white wine with a California appellation. Again, I’ve got to wonder – what are people thinking?
As always, these tastings reveal so much to me. Namely that our wines are truly delicious and so well priced. We’re not sure yet which direction we want go with this new White Meritage which leads me to my final thought – what do you think about us producing a White Meritage? Do you think it’s a good idea? If you could name this wine, what would you call it? I’d like to hear your feedback.
Throughout the year, we’ve been talking a lot about our 40th anniversary. It has been a big focus of our marketing efforts and has pretty much dominated 2012. But, I realized in the middle of the night last night that I haven’t bragged much about it on this blog. Plus, I haven’t shared with you the cool new video we made highlighting the occasion.
First, let me say-I’m really proud the winery is celebrating 40 years of family winemaking in the Dry Creek Valley. We have been through a lot (and I mean a LOT!) so this milestone is very near and dear to my heart. I literally grew up at the winery, as did several other people still in our employ, and we’ve seen the wine industry grow from the growth and glory days of the 80s and 90s, to the slug fest of international competition it has morphed into nowadays. I’ve seen the dreaded neo-Prohibitionists be replaced by a nation of wine-friendly folks with a fascination for the grape. Tourism and tasting rooms have become big business. Distributors have become wholesale behemoths with far too many brands competing for far too few slots on the retail shelf and restaurant wine list. Winery travel is still essential. Good press and high scores are helpful. Producing high quality wines is non-negotiable.
But the real key to success is the ability to stick it out. Persistence and patience are vital. And at the end of the day, it has to be a labor of love. You simply have to make wines you are passionate about sharing with the world. How they end up on the dinner table is the hard part.
I heard something astonishing today. It actually made my stomach ache. A well known Napa winery has released a $250 bottle of Sauvignon Blanc. No, I did not add an extra digit to that by accident. Apparently, it actually sells for $250 a bottle.
As a leading Sauvignon Blanc producer with 41 vintages under our belt, it’s hard for me not to absolutely grimace with jealousy. Sure, I’d love to command a price like that. Just think of all the cool gizmos we could buy for the winery and the massive infusion of revenue such prices would generate for us!
But really, who in their right mind would have the gumption to actually do it? Especially in today’s economy.
I admire winery owners who just put their foot down and raise prices to their heart’s content. I remember about 15 years ago when the then owner of Chalk Hill Winery decided to raise their bottle prices by a hefty $20-$30 per bottle. He did so because he felt the wines were worth it and he was tired of being positioned in one price category when his beloved bottlings warranted another (in his mind’s eye).
I too feel that way. Repeated blind tastings and competitive analysis support my theories. But I simply don’t have the nerve or the financial where with all to go through with it. If sales stall, what will we do? Tap into my oil well money? Tap into my trust fund account?
So I guess we’ll just keep making super delicious wines that express the nuances of our region. We’ll continue to send samples to wine critics in hopes of positive reviews and high scores. And, we will slowly take a price increase or two when grape costs go up, barrels become even more costly, or the winery needs a new roof. We may never be in the same league as “Chateau La-Di-Da”, but that’s ok. I’m not sure I could live with myself.