Friday, December 14, 2007

Mailers, Emails & Direct Marketing In The Wine Industry

So you walk into your local wine specialty store, liquor store or the depot of liquor that is attached to your local grocery store. You look around the aisles at the plethora of choices, some familiar but mostly foreign (literally, since many wines are produced overseas) and mostly unknown to you as a consumer.

Let's assume that you choose wisely (or is that blind luck that puts that good bottle in your hands) or take the advice of an employee of a store and wind up with a winner that you loved. Chances are, you will remember the name and begin to include that wine in the rotation of wines that you purchase when you go to the store looking to make wine purchases. If you are like over 90% of the wine-purchasing public, you will actually forget the name of the wine, or the vintage and wind up asking for another recommendation or trying to hit paydirt on a total stranger again. Just think about how poor the odds become after you actually picked a good bottle!!! You'd have better odds of safely walking through an open field with an umbrella in a lightning storm!

Before my recent trip to Napa, Ca, I would have never thought to look up the websites of the wines that I have drank and/or enjoyed. Even more unlikely would have been my desire to join an email list of a winery who makes wines that I like. For what purpose??? If I want the wine again, I'll just go back to the store and ask for it. However, you assume that the store will have the wine you like, OR that the winery distributes all of its menu of wines to your local store. In fact, most wineries have some wines that are only available at the tasting room or via its mailing list.

Yes, most if not all wineries maintain an email list of their customers. They use this list to communicate with you, their customers, about things such as new releases or re-releases of their Library Selections (which are older wines that had previously been released and are now available for sale). Some wineries offer recipes or food and wine pairing recommendations for their specific wines, so that you would know to have grilled sirloin with horseradish smashed potatoes with a mango/balsamic culee with their 2002 Mt. Veeder Estate-Grown Cabernet Sauvignon. (Please note: That was NOT a real should have had the Merlot!!!)

Returning to the topic, the wineries feel that having your information helps them to market directly to their audience, rather than to the wine-buying public as a whole. Email marketing also allows the winery to project sales success for their wines, because they take your email interest and turn it into a club membership or a direct sales vehicles. Although many people would not want to be obligated to purchase a wine selection of the winery's choice, in some cases, direct mail or club membership is the ONLY way to get a wine. For example: Kosta Brown winery does not distribute their wines to distributors or liquor stores. They will only sell to customers on their list. AND, just being on the list does not guarantee you any of their wine. You see, there is such demand for their wines, especially their higher-end Pinot Noirs, that they have a hierarchy of past customers who are entitled to buy all of their wines while lesser buyers or newbies have to hope for an allocation from their wish list. It's like trying to get on the waiting list for season tickets to the Green Bay Packers!!! Also, some smaller producers just don't want to go through the effort to get distributed out of their region and want to keep things simple. That's what Rocking Horse Winery did just this year. According to them, they wanted to ratchet production down and make less wine so that they can stop and smell the roses and enjoy some needed time with family. Now all of their wine is produced and sold in and around California. What a shame, because their 2003 Cabernet was killer and when trying to get some, I was told I had to come out to see them!!! Oh well, another trip wouldn't kill me. Thanks Jeff...I'll get out there to get the wine soon.

Another way wineries get to you is the MAILER. The mailer is a postcard, or in the case of more high-end producers, a folio of wine tasting notes, viticultural reports, technical data and the like. Each mailer serves a sell you wines direct from winery to your home. Provided of course, that you live in a state that will allow direct shipping between a producing winery and your state. Here in NJ, we do not have reciprocal privileges with California Wine. The convoluted laws and rules that have been written to protect the rich and confuse the everyman, state that NJ and California don't mix like Gin and Tonic do. In fact, most Jersey residents use a NY address of a friend or relative to have wines shipped to them. I have to have wine shipped to my brother's shop and he brings them down once or twice a month.

The MAILER also keeps the winery in the forefront of your mind, because you are on the list as a lover or appreciator of their wine. They love to send you things because usually you are remember your last bottle of this great wine and think you should have more. The winery LOVES this type of repeat customer because all it costs to put the wine in their hand is a $0.41 stamp and a little postcard/mail piece. Don't get emotional about a wine. Each year, they will make more of the wine, and if it was a really good bottle, for sure it will cost you more down the road. But the MAILER can also be informative, like Jessup Cellars mailer which has info about what they are doing to improve the wine and the wine-tasting experience that they want to extend to their customers.

Either by retail, email or post-card manner, this producer of fine wines reaches out and helps you to improve your wine enjoyment. Its fun, its somewhat impersonal....until you have to whip out your credit card. The wineries can be extraordinarily friendly, and if you want to try wines which are not available to the average Joe, the mailing list offers you that chance.

Well the major downside is that not only does the winery have its "tasting room and club only wines" available to members, it also has its generally released inventory available online at a higher price (sometimes more than 25-35% more than at retail shops) and if you didn't know better you would overpay for your wines.

The other downside is that in addition to paying a higher price than retail, you also have to pay SHIPPING from out of state. That's not cheap when you are buying the club allocation of 2 bottles and paying $20 in shipping to get it.

My Suggestion: Try wines locally. There is so many different wines available that you can spend a whole year trying new things and learning the differences between wines, both domestic and imported. Save the shipping and over-charges and use that money to fund your trip to Wine Country. Once there, sample those hidden gems and buy what you can't buy back home.

Lastly, I want to wish each of my readers and friends a happy and healthy and safe holiday season. I hope you all get to take some time to enjoy the gifts of life and love that surround you each day.

I have a Reader Request tasting to post early next week and then its a week layoff before the next post. Thanks for your loyal support!!!

PS- If you like Italian Food, Italian Art, Italian Music, Italian People or if you are Italian....check out The blog is dedicated to the Italian Lifestyle in America and is well-writted by my friend, Richard Michelli. He also has a great website.... Enjoy!

Thursday, December 6, 2007

Tasting, Tasting, Tasting, Tasting Notes........

This past Saturday, Wendy and I hosted our annual Holiday Party, which has morphed from a traditional family Chanukkah party into a Family, Friends & Neighbors Holiday Party. At our party, each child has gifts to open and I usually call all the kids into the room and play a quasi-Santa/Chanukkah Harry and call each kid up by name and hand them their gifts (wrapped of course) and once each kid has a gift to open.....mass chaos as 12-15 kids rip open wrapping paper and packaging to get to their gifts. We also do an Adult Gift Swap which is often entertaining and always controversial (this year, we had a penalty flag which was thrown when someone broke a rule.) During this part of the party, I am often referred to as Chanukkah Czar for my inflexible rules which are often neatly typed and are always read aloud before the exchange begins. Hopefully, everyone has a buzz going and the ribbing is good-natured and fun for all.
To get everyone buzzed, we have a full bar. However, most of my family and friends opt for the wines I have selected for the night. This night was no exception. This post to Oenophobia: A Fear Of Wine is dedicated to the tasting notes from each of the wines opened and drank. Feel free to peruse the list or click the links to the wineries websites. Remember, unless otherwise mentioned, all of these wines are available at Tinton Falls Buy-Rite on Asbury Ave. in the Tinton Falls Plaza. Please ask for Kevin or Sean Flanagan for help. You can even print out this posting and bring it with you. They can help with suggestions if something from this list is not available. FYI- in case you didn't know this (Mom) wine is ALWAYS less-expensive at your local shop than direct from the winery. When you factor in shipping, the cost is significantly less. However, many of a winery's reserve or single vineyard wines are NOT distributed and therefore you HAVE to buy them from the winery direct.

Here's The List........

2005 Robert Mondavi Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon ($22) - From one of the best known wineries in the world, Robert Mondavi consistently produces high-quality varietally correct wines. Their 2005 Napa Valley Cab is no exception. A blend of mostly Cabernet Sauvignon (85%), with 5% each of Cab. Franc and Merlot and 2% each of Petit Verdot and Malbec and 1% Syrah this wine rocks! Mondavi produces high-rating single vineyard wines that often reach triple-digits in price and score in the mid 9o's consistently. The 2005 Napa Valley Cab is a little cousin to those wines and this wine is deep and dense and full of strong fruit extraction. The wine has oak and supple tannins and brings a bright vibrancy to the glass of wine. I loved this wine for its class and flavor. In this price range, it is the best wine I can recommend. I personally score the wine 91+ and have seen it getting amazing reviews. Buy a case because this wine will age to improve.
2005 Ferrari-Carano Cabernet Sauvignon - Sonoma - ($25) - Another really excellent example of the varietal of Cabernet Sauvignon, the FC Cabernet is really well-crafted and flavorful wine. The wine is a product of Sonoma County, where the warmer climates and low-lying morning fog shroud the grapes and vines allowing maximum concentration of the fruit. The wine is mountain-grown and full of complex flavors of black cherry, blackberries, toffee, caramel and dirt, yes, dirt. Its an amazing combination and at the price, a BIG QPR scorer. In future years, we're all going to remember the 2005 vintage of wines like these the way 1997 and 1982 are often remembered as perfect for the varietal of Cabernet. The FC cab is a blend of Cabernet Sauvignon, Syrah, Cab. Franc and Petit Verdot. I give it a 90+ score, just below the Mondavi, almost its equal, but not as complex. Still a wine to ABSOLUTELY own. If you go out to eat at a decent restaurant, you will find this bottle of wine at a shocking $50+ on the wine list. I say shocking because this wine is in a category of wines that you MUST have at home in at least 3 bottle quantity to open when you have company or when you want a special accompaniment to dinner. At home, its a $22-$25 do the math.

2004 Rusden "Christine's Vineyard" Grenache - South Australia ($38) -The Rusden vineyard in Barrossa are among some of the best varietal-designated vineyards in the area. In 1979, Christine and Dennis Canute purchase 40 acres in which this Grenache is grown. This wine is deep red in color with a bright, red berry nose, with complicating notes of tobacco, anise and subtle mint. Sweet and luscious, the raspberry and wild strawberry flavors appear providing a silky texture to the wine. There's a boatload of sweet, almost jammy red berry fruit, as well as lingering notes of musky earth and mocha. More than simply a fruit bomb, and long on the aftertaste. This wine scored 92 pts. from Josh Reynolds of Stephen Tanzer's International Wine Cellar in July 2006. This is a stunning example of how Grenache is supposed to be made, without the excessive heat and alcohol that occurs when chasing the elusive balance between the sweetness and the luxurious flavor of well-integrated alcohol content.

2003 Ken Wright Cellars Freedom Hill Pinot Noir - Oregon ($55) This wine, from one of the best producers of Pinot Noir that I have ever had the pleasure to taste, is big on flavor, mouthfeel and finish. The wine was recommended by Kevin Flanagan as a $22 bottle and was so highly recommended, it is selling for more than double that today at auction. The wine is sourced from the Freedom Hill Vineyard which is located in Dallas, Oregon from a Pommard grape clone, planted in 1980. This wine had an amazing 2003 vintage and 2006 has been projected as a comparable year to the 2003. The wine has a medium-deep ruby color; earthy, black fruits on nose; big full and toasty on palate with balance and black cherry flavors. This wine scored big with our guests, most likely because the wine's flavor profile is similar to some of the wines we had already opened which were Cabernets. I'm looking forward to trying the 2006 vintage of this great Pinot producer. FYI- Ken Wright's Pinots need cellar ageing before they are ready to drink. If you purchase any of the several Pinots he makes, go to their website at where they have a chart of when to drink each of their wines. COOL!!!

2005 Jardin Bradgate Syrah - Stellenbosch, South Africa ($10) At a recent industry tasting, Kevin and I stopped in at the South Africa table where we met Gary Jordan from Jordan Winery in Stellenbosch, SA. I previously wrote about Gary and his wines, but tonight, I opened a Bradgate Syrah of his. Gary's wines are marketed under the JARDIN label here in the US. The wine was subtle when appropriate and big in flavor and mouth-feel as expected....not a lot of heat or too much extracted fruit. A really nice wine with a light approach to Syrah but a long finish of rich flavor. However, this night, Bradgate did not appeal to many in the crowd. In fact, it was the only bottle that was opened that was NOT FINISHED. I asked around, and was told that it was not as full-flavored as some of the bigger Cabs that were opened. BUT, I also got RAVE reviews for the Ken Wright Cellars Pinot Noir. So my thought is that the Bradgate just didn't appeal to the crowd's palate, which is what wine tasting is ALL ABOUT! I personally still like the Bradgate Syrah when tasted alone, and I can see how the subtle tastes of this wine can get lost in the big, tannic, extracted-fruit of the Cabernets.

2005 Caravan Cabernet Sauvignon - Napa ($35) I almost DON'T want to tell you about this wine, for fear that word will get out and it will become more expensive and harder to get. As it is now, I have to reserve a six-pack as soon as it is released because it sells out quickly and once its gotta wait till next year. Here's why it is so scarce: The wine is made from Cabernet Powerhouse, Darioush who makes one of the premiere Cabernets in the Napa Valley. The same fruit that goes into their Signature Cabernet goes into the Caravan, at a fraction of the price. The wine's profile is as good as its pedigree, with big ripe black fruits and currant on the front and mid palate and a long finish with tobacco, dirt and blackberries on the finish. The nose is ripe and filthy and the wine has NEVER disappointed. Now, $35 is NOT cheap for a bottle of wine. But I have had wines that are more than twice this price that would never hold water in a blind tasting. I love Caravan, and have made converts of many, many friends who have also enjoyed the nectar of Caravan....right Patty???? This is a 93 pt. wine, compared to 94 pts. for the Darioush Signature Cabernet.

2005 Peltier Station Petite Syrah ($17) This wine is produced in the Lodi appellation in California, near Elk Grove. This region benefits from a cooler climate, which allows the grapes to stay on the vine longer, allowing for better concentration of flavors, without the fear of over-exposure of the fruit. The only bottle I have had by this producer is the Petite Syrah, which was recently awarded "Best in Class" and "Best of Region" at the 2006 California State Fair. Their website has some particulars about this and their other offerings. check it out to read about their lineup. The wine we tasted has a LOT of fruit-forward flavors. The nose on the wine was not as forward as the flavor in the mouth. We got chocolate, plum and spice during tasting, with a healthy bit of oak and astringency. The tannins were not overly impressive in their integration to the flavor, but also not intolerable. With aging, this wine will probably taste even better than it did at our party. If we drink it again, and I'm sure we will, I'll decant for a few hours to get the flavor out. A good wine at a great price point.
At the end of the night, we bid adieu to our loved ones and discarded the bottles in the recycling bin and counted our blessings as another year begins for us and for the special people in our lives who are there in good times and bad. We look forward to continuing our trek in the world of wine, with you as our faithful co-pilots.