HOW the Wine Industry can Recover in 2011: Use Less Oak

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Oak wine barrels at the Robert Mondavi vineyar...
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Positive signs of recovery for the wine industry in 2010.  We can all breathe a sigh of relief that consumers are drinking again.  Well, they never stopped drinking, just now they're drinking the good stuff.  Consumers are now buying $25-$50 bottles of wine whereas last year and the year before they were buying bottles under $15.

I got to thinking about what it costs to produce a bottle of wine.  Things that factor into the price have a lot to do with the work done in the vineyard.  Each time vineyard workers go through the rows and touch the vines, it costs money.  In good vintages, a winery will get good fruit with less touching of vines, hence, less cost basis.  In a bad year, a winery might have to do a significant amount more work just to get fruit to a good place by harvest.  From vintage to vintage, these are unfixed costs that can't be controlled.  If a winery is buying fruit from another vineyards, there might also be a fluctuation of what the fruit costs per ton.  In 2010, many vineyard in Northern California lost 20-30% of their crops because it was a cool summer.  Grapes weren't getting ripe, so vineyard managers cut leaves off the vines that normally act as shade from the sun.  Mother nature, it seems, has a sick sense of humor.  Shortly after leaves were cut off, there was a heat spike over 100 degrees for a few days.  That turned 20-20% of grapes into raisins.  Without the normal leaf shade, the grapes didn't stand a chance.

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One (somewhat) fixed cost in wine is the cost of oak barrels.  A brand-spanking new French oak barrel costs somewhere around $800-1200.  A barrel can be used a few times before it becomes "neutral," or doesn't impart oaky flavor.  American oak is an option, but French oak is the preferred choice.  Wineries order pallets of oak barrels each year.  Do the math with me.  If a winery buys 500 new oak barrels at an average of $1000 per, that's $500,000 in barrels.

Here's where my brilliant idea for financial recovery comes into play:  Use less oak.  Simple, huh?  In 2010 I tasted more overly oaked wines than I cared to.  Why on God's green earth are winemakers oaking the shit out of their wines?  This is a debate that's been around for years, but I'm really baffled.  Cut the amount of oak down 25% on your next barrel order.  Actually make wine that expresses the vineyard and don't cover up flaws with an orgy of French oak.  Not only could wineries save a few hundred grand, but they might actually make a better wine.  Why has nobody done this?

Take for example the 2007 Quilceda Creek Red wine from Washington state.  For years I've been a lover of QC wines, and have ordered from their mailing list.  After drinking (or trying to drink) this wine, I decided to drop off the list.  At 15.2% alcohol, the lower tier QC resembled Vodka and Robitussin rather than a world class wine.  There was so much oak on this wine, my wife and I literally could not finish it.  We ended up making a sauce instead.

In Napa and Sonoma I've experienced something similar.  Dozens of overly oaked wines that really have no reason to be so oaky.  Robert Parker isn't helping any by giving these behemoth's inflated scores, and essentially rewarding them for oak.

So there it is, use less oak.  That reduces the carbon footprint for shipping.  It saves more trees.  Wineries save on costs and wine drinkers get a better wine.  What do you think?

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Rick's Pick: 2005 Maison Bouachon Gigondas Duc de Montfort

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The Rhone Valley has two part: the Northern Rhone and Southern Rhone.  Northern Rhone is known for 100% Syrah or Viognier wines whereas the Southern Rhone is known for Grenache based blends.  Gigondas is an area within Southern Rhone, which means the wines are predominantly Grenache blends, but have a unique characteristic all their own.  The 2005 Duc de Montfort from Maison Bouachon is a great example of typicity.

APPEARANCE

Color: Clear Brightness: Star Bright Red Color: Ruby Rim Variation: Pink representing a few years of age Viscosity: Medium Plus with minor tear staining

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NOSE

Condition: Clean Intensity: Medium Plus Aroma: Youthful Fruit: Black Cherry, Red Cherry, Plum Earth: None detected Other: Violets, Cola, Leather

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PALATE

Sweetness: Dry Body: Medium Fruit: Black Cherry, Red Cherry Earth: None Detected Alcohol: Medium Acidity: Medium Plus Complexity: Medium Plus Finish: Medium Plus

Black fruits and red fruits come together one one of my favorite wine regions.  Gigondas is like the little brother to Châteauneuf-du-Pape with a little bit of Rosé production, but dominated by red wine.  Gigondas has a Mediterranean climate, unlike Northern Rhone, which has more of a continental climate.  The main geographical identifier of Gigondas is the Dentelles de Montmirail, which is a small mountain range dividing the region into two areas.  One area is hotter, while the other is cooler.

I found the 2005 to have just the right amount of age (although it'll get better).  Food pairings with this wine can be fairly easy—tonight we opted for grilled pork tenderloin with balsamic fig reduction sauce, and it was off the hook!  Let me know your suggestions in the comments below.

Cheers!

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Wine+Food Pairing at the Indy Car Races

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Wine and food pairings can happen every day, but whether or not they're a good pairing is a different story.  Part of my shtick is taking the snootiness out of enjoying wine.  What better setting to test that than in the IZOD Indy Car press box at Infineon Raceway, located in Sonoma.  I'm always on the look out for good, flavorful food no matter what price range or style.  Your taste buds don't care.  Your taste buds care about sweet, sour, bitter, salt and umami.

Here's what I found today:

Meatloaf used to creep me out as a kid.  But as I got older I realized you can make meatloaf with quality ingredients and flavorings.  My Gramma used make something similar called Grandma Jay's Hamburger Steak in Mushroom Gravy.  Today's wine+food pairing goes to show you can find good, balanced combinations just about anywhere.

Not only was the meatloaf surprisingly good, but check out the desserts!

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ONE YEAR!

Hard to believe how fast a year went by...  On August 1st of last year the Bakas family moved west to pursue a dream.

In the past twelve months I've had the privilege of meeting so many people across the country and share great wine.  Many of the people I've met are on this list you can 1-click follow on Twitter.

I've cooked up a deal for online friends to get the wine I'm going to celebrate with.  The newly released 2006 Napa Valley Merlot goes for $28/btl at the winery but on Thursday and Friday you can get it for about $16/btl including upgraded shipping!  Orders are in full cases (12 btls) only.

Here's the link to get the Merlot Use coupon code ONE YEAR when checking out to get the FED EX priority overnight shipping included at no charge.  When the order is filled and it ships out, it'll get to you the next morning.  Enjoy!

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5 Social Media Tips for Wineries & Wine Shops

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Few things bring people together like food and drink.  From the Roman empire on up through the ages to now, wine has served as the common thread that weaves together society though social gatherings.  Birthday parties, annual holidays, business functions, family dinners or just hanging with friends are settings where wine and conversation are likely to be found.

That bodes well for wineries and wine shops wanting to build their brand in social media.  The wine industry has a bit of an unfair advantage over other industries.  If we were using social media to talk about tires it wouldn't be nearly as sexy as talking about Chardonnay.

I've seen dozens of wineries who are trying to make sense out of social media and utilize what limited time they have to do something, anything just to avoid being left behind.  Well open up your mouths baby birds, because I've got a big fat night crawler for you.  Well, five actually.  Here's some answers to the test:

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1. Be Patient - It can work.  But it's not going to happen overnight.  The best analogy I can give is the example of planting vines.  You don't plant vines, then turn around and say, "where's my grapes?".  You have to wait 3-5 years before your vines produce fruit you can use.

Luckily, you don't have to wait 3-5 years for your social media vines to produce fruit, but you do have to nurture it and let your social presence grow organically.  If you do that, your social media presence will produce fruit consistently.  It's hard for winery owners to commit 100% to this concept, which is why some of them are failing at it, and ultimately writing off social media as a fad.

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2. Build Trust First, Then Sell Wine (maybe) - This is the secret.  It's the answer to the million dollar question.  It might blow your mind when I tell you in the past 12 months St. Supéry winery has offered to sell wine through social media a total of three times.  Yet, people are buying our wine and sales are up.  They're buying for a number of reasons, including the hard work of our CEO, VP of Sales, National Accounts guy, price adjustments, new winemaker and our stellar visitor center.  Social Media and Marketing is one cog in the engine.

The worst thing you can do is get online, then start pushing your product.  Nothing will dissuade trust faster.  In fact, that's literally the opposite of what this is all about.  As soon as someone opts in either by following on Twtiter or becoming a fan on Facebook, that is the beginning of a personal relationship.  That's the beginning of trust building.  You have to put faith in knowing your trust will create a tighter bond with consumers, which in turn will lead to sales.

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3. Establish a Personality - Wine drinkers would prefer to see a face or hear a voice.  If it's the winemaker, even better.  If it's the chef or owner, that's a great start.  Just putting the winery label out there is okay, but it's not very personal.  The consumer wants to get to know the people behind the brand.

Videos and photos are going to happen.  Attending wine and social media events is going to happen.  Before a consumer opens up their wallet, they want to know who they're buying from.  Adding the human element to interactions with customers through the face(s) of the winery allows the winery to show they care and are transparent.

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4. The Right Person isn't a Millennial - One of the biggest misconceptions is you need someone in their 20's.  It might seem like a good idea because twenty-somethings are cheaper to hire and are the main users of social media, right?  Wrong.  The largest demographic of wine drinkers online are women 35-55.  I'm a 40-year old male, and having some successes in this arena.  Gary Vaynerchuk is a 30-year old male and definitely having successes.  The right person is someone with emotional intelligence to responsibly represent a brand publicly.

I'm not saying someone right out of college won't work, just get someone for the right reasons.  This person is going to be holding your brand in their hands, which is why I tend to lean towards hiring someone internally rather than a so-called social media marketing firm or social media "guru".  Anyone who refers to themselves as such should give you reason to run in the other direction.

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5. Promote Everyone but Yourself - I'm really fortunate to work for the Skalli family at St. Supéry.  They understand we can't just talk about ourselves all day because that would be boring and one dimensional.  We often talk about everyone and everything but ourselves.  It blows people's minds when we promote our competitors online.  We do it because we're stewards of a legacy of collaborators.  Before any of us were born, grape growers used to work together and help each other out.  Luckily, in the realm of social media, you're rewarded for doing that.

If I had to guestimate, I'd say a winery's brand has little better than a 1:1 return on effort when self promoting.  But you get better than 2:1 when promoting members of the community.  Imagine that, you get rewarded for being positive and supportive.  Pretty cool concept.

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#WorldCupWine Tasting Notes: 2005 Pago de Larrainzar from Spain

Pago de Larrainzar is a family owned estate winery from Navarra, Spain.

The wine presents an attractive and deep cherry-red color. On the nose, you will distinguish an intense aroma of mature fruit, compote, well assembled with notes of a well-aged wine in high quality barrels. This gives way to hints of minerals, pepper and coffee. On the palate, the taste is flavorful, very mature, appetizing and fruity. It is well structured and has a long finish. Merlot (45%), Cabernet Sauvignon (40%), Tempranillo (15%).

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2007 Shameless Hussy Merlot

Hard Row to Hoe is owned and operated by Judy and Don Phelps in Manson, Washington.  This particular Merlot comes from the Riverbend Vineyards located in the Wahluke Slope appellation.  It's yet another Merlot from Washington state that grabs you by the back of the head and says, "I'm gonna rock your world so buckle up  — Kansas is going bye bye."

You'd expect a red wine named Shameless Hussy to be like a riverboat dancer on Xanax.  For twenty bucks this wine delivers.  What is delivers depends on what you're looking for.  It's a sweeter, jammier fruit driven wine dealing black fruits like blackberry, black cherry and marionberry.  There's distinct vanilla and spices, that combined with the fruits gives you a sense of blackberry pie in a glass.

This is a fun wine.  There's no need to analyze it and pick out the tasting notes, just pour it in a glass and rock n' roll.  Every now and then I get a hankerin' for a jammy style wine, and this one will scratch that itch.  The alcohol level on the label says 13.8% but it comes across more like 14.7%.  It's a little hot at first so if you're looking for a food pairing, something with some heat will offset the sweetness.  Red meats like flank steak or new york strip do well with generous salt and pepper along with some chili flakes.  The chili flake part is the secret that'll make many red meats marry up with the hussy.  Visit the winery web page at HardRow.com.

I don't give scores, but I would suggest picking up a bottle to see what Shameless Hussy has to offer you.  If you don't like Merlot, Washington state might change your mind.  Cheers!

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7 Wines That Go With Thanksgiving

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When picking wines for Thanksgiving, there are different choices for different times throughout the day.  This year I'll be considering some of these wines for Thanksgiving at Chéz Bakas:

Find these wines at a store near where you live on grappos.com

Broadbent Vinho Verde - aperitif When Uncle Earl shows up to Thanksgiving he's ready to watch football and start grazing.  Sure, you could put a beer in his hand and he'd be happy as a clam.  OR, you could give Uncle Earl some sophistication and introduce him to a new wine.  Vinho Verde is a great pre-dinner wine because it's lower in alcohol (much to Earl's shagrin) and also has a light effervescence to it. You want to keep your edge. Thanksgiving is a marathon, not a sprint. Ease your liver into the evening with a lighter white wine that's easy to sip. Broadbent Vinho Verde is one of the only Vinho Verde's shipped to the U.S. in refrigerated containers which is important because freshness is what this wine is all about.

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Sokol Blosser Evolution - aperitif, dinner The Sokol Blosser Evolution white blend is a fun wine for many occasions. It's hard to describe exactly what it is or what's in it, but all I know is it works—by itself or with food.   Evolution is a blend of 9 different white grapes that all hold hands and play Red Rover with your palate. You can sip on Evolution before dinner or with it. The most recent edition of Evolution reminds me of the older editions with a touch more sweetness aka residual sugar....but just a touch.

evolution

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St. Supery Virtu - dinner I'm not just picking this wine because I work for the winery (disclosure) but also because the Virtu combines the best of two worlds. Sauvignon Blanc is more of an aromatic wine than a "rich mouth feel" wine. Semillion is the opposite. It's got more of a creamy texture that you'd associate with a buttery Chardonnay, but it's not as aromatic. Virtu joins them together like Voltron to form a rich, creamy textured wine with the floral components that do the tango with Thanksgiving turkey on your taste buds. In my other Thanksgiving post I mention Pinot Gris or a drier Riesling as a wine to compliment the turkey with acidity to cut through gravy. The Virtu accomplishes many of the same things as those two wines for the same reasons.

virtu

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Chateau Musar Cuvee Rosé - dinner I've tried many rosés recently from so many different grapes around the world. One of my favorites is the Musar Cuvee from Lebanon. Made from 100% Cinsault, the Musar rosé is like a 50/50 blend of cherry cider and cranberry cider. It's dry, but not too dry. There's just enough residual sweetness so your cheeks don't pucker. The balance between alcohol, fruit and acidity is ideal.  Because of it's resemblance to cranberry, it compliments the main course.

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Hahn SLH Pinot Gris - dinner There's something about the Hahn SLH Pinot Gris that almost evokes an emotional response. It's such a pretty wine with elegance and refinement, yet pure quality fruit and acidity that is great to sip by itself. Since Thanksgiving is a special occasion, why not share with others. I really like about a dozen Alsatian Pinot Gris, but most recently this one has been near and dear to my heart.  It features a silky honey texture with floral notes of a Hawaiian garden.  Hahn does it again! A3586 PGRIS SLH F cmn foil.eps

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St. Supéry Moscato - after dinner aperitif With age, comes wisdom. And the wisdom I've gained over the years is by the time Thanksgiving dinner is over, I'm usually stuffed and not able to bend at the waist in any sort of sitting position. I'm usually laying on my back counting how many calories I just ingested. You'd think the wisdom would be don't eat so much. Either way, I'm learning to skip dessert and not eat any more. The problem is I still have a hankering for something sweet. The Moscato has filled that slot nicely. It scratches that itch for something sweet after dinner without being too high in alcohol or being food. The only way pumpkin pie is going to be eaten is if I store it in my esophagus while I'm waiting for my stomach to empty.  This wine features aromatic fireworks of peaches and cream without being too syrupy.  It's got some finesse, which is nice after a big meal. The Moscato is the so popular at St. Supéry that it has its own wine club.

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Broadbent Malmsey Madeira - dessert If you do find room for dessert, I admire you. Did you know a good Madeira like Broadbent's will go with virtually any dessert? It's not cooking Madeira, it's the stuff that's made to enjoy in a glass. I've tried Madeira with ice cream, cheesecake, chocolate cake, bananas foster, créme brulée and various other desserts. The Madeira went with all of them. In fact, you could dip a piece of bread in balsamic vinegar then eat and still have Madeira "cut through" the balsamic taste. Good Madeira might possible be the most perfect dessert wine.

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So there you have it.  Another Thanksgiving has come and gone.  Some poor sucker is doing the dishes while everyone else is trying to alter their bodily chemistry with coffee to offset the effects of Tryptophan.  I hope this guide helps give an idea of what wine to serve at what time throughout the day in order to get the most satisfaction and bang for your buck.  Happy Thanksgiving everyone!

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HOW TO: Pair Wine with Thanksgiving Dinner

As you sit down to stuff your pie hole this Thanksgiving, you might not know which wine to wash it down with.  364 days I year I love geeking out on wine and food pairings.  Usually around late morning each day I'm thinking about what the main course will be for dinner, and which wine will compliment it.  It's pretty straightforward most of the time, but when Thanksgiving comes around, it's that one day out of the year where I feel like I'm playing Rugby with my taste buds. All the flavors together resemble a demolition derby of delectables that are all having a scrum on your dinner plate.  You have turkey, which is kind of dry until you gravy on it.  You have cranberry sauce, which is tart and sweet and gelatinous.  And you have mashed potatoes which are a starch (hopefully with butter) and of course all the other trimmings.  Where the hell is the bacon in all this?

There's no single wine that will compliment all of that.  My Mom usually just says, "screw it, I'm serving a buttery Chardonnay."  That's one approach.  Not really one that'll compliment the flavors, but it's one approach.  Keep in mind, the five taste regions on your palate are probably sweet, sour, bitter, salt and umami aka savory.  I say probably because every time I do a presentation about your taste buds, someone always comes up afterwards and reminds me the taste region theory is outdated and has been disproven.  It works for me.

If you really want to bring out the nuances of flavor through complimentary tastes, you might want to consider serving a couple of wines with dinner.  In recent years the Bakas family has been going with a 2-wine solution to Thanksgiving Dinner—A dry Rosé and a Riesling both for the main course.

The right Rosé will be dry with cranberry cider notes while hiding residual sugar.  That's ideal if your turkey wasn't brined for a month, then mummified in bacon.  It serves the same purpose as cranberry sauce to compliment the meal.  Pinot Noir can also be a good option if you want to have a red wine with dinner.  Pinot is light enough that it won't overpower the turkey while providing a warm cozy feeling for your taste buds.  Pinot Noir is also good if your table looks funny with just a rosé and riesling on it.  You might want to have a member of the red wine contingent in attendance and that's when you bring out the Pinot Noir.

The Riesling should usually be on the dry side too and could even be a Pinot Gris.  Alsatian wines are great with Thanksgiving due to their acidity and restraint of sweetness.  You want acidity in wine to "cut through" things like gravy or mashed potatoes.  A dry turkey will also benefit from a little residual sweetness.  Not that your turkey will be dry, it's just the nature of the bird. So there you have it.  When pairing wines with Thanksgiving dinner, reach for a nice pink wine not called White Zin and a drier style white wine like Riesling or Pinot Gris.  Depending on what you cram into your mouth will determine which wine glass to sip out of to compliment the flavors.  Of course, if you're my Uncle Earl you'll just have a beer.

Cheers!

10 Ways to Hide Wine from Your Spouse

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Image via Wikipedia

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Sometimes you have a really good bottle of wine that you don't want to share with anyone.  Kind of like a snot nosed kid in the sandbox who doesn't want to share the newest toy.

There.  I said it.  I love my wife, but sometimes I just don't want to share.  Like the 20 year Tawny port I'm drinking right now.  Here's a few ways to hide wine from your spouse:

10. In your stomach. 9. You know those little wood barrels St. Bernard dogs wear around their necks?  Those can hold a full bottle of Pinot Noir. 8. Old desktop computer towers can hold two bottles, but don't turn 'em on because they'll cook the wine 7. "Why is this pillow so hard?" 6. I asked our cat if I could bury a bottle or two in her litter box.  I took her blank stare as a yes. 5. Remember on Scooby Doo how you could tilt a book on the book shelf and a secret lab behind the bookcase would appear?  Picture that, but a wine cellar. 4. A lawn mower bag can hold an entire case. 3. Baggy MC Hammer pants with carefully placed holsters can hold up to 5 lbs. a leg. The down side is you walk like John Wayne. 2. Hollow out a log in the fireplace.  Just don't forget it's there. 1. Some humidifiers can hold an entire bottle of Sauvignon Blanc.

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