Rick's Picks: 2007 St. Francis Claret (Elu Mini Me)

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One of my favorite wines at St. Supéry is the Elu Bordeaux style blend.  Some of the grapes you might find in Elu are Cabernet, Merlot, Malbec, Petit Verdot and Cab Franc.  Why am I talking about Elu?  Because the St. Francis Claret reminds me very much of Elu, only more affordable.

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The St. Francis Claret is made with the same grapes, but is 1/3 the price.  It's the Mini Me version of Elu.  If tasted blind, you might be able to pick out the Elu but at $22 a bottle why bother?  2007 St. Francis Claret has a different blend of 26% Merlot, 25% Cabernet, 23% Malbec, 10% Cabernet Franc and 7% Petit Verdot.  Both are estate grown.  Both have a sweeter, jammy profile with vanilla oak.  The 2007 Claret gets a nod because the '07 vintage was incredible in California.  Winemakers were licking their chops when fruit came in 'cause the fruit was big, ripe and there was lots of it.

When we visited St. Francis in February, we had tasted through the lineup.  I hadn't tasted anything I was going to buy and take home, but overall their lineup was a solid representation of Sonoma wines.  They poured the Claret as an, "oh, by the way just try this" as we're getting ready to leave.

I had the "omigod" response and immediately bought 6 bottles.  Cashmere in a glass smoothness, plus sweet plum, black cherry, cedar and baking spices.  The Hungarian, French and American oak impart yummy vanilla, baking spice notes with a kiss of sweetness.  It's not just vanilla, it's french vanilla.  I picked the St. Francis Claret as a Rick's Pick because the quality for the price is awesome (QPR).  This is a great everyday drinking wine, especially if you like Bordeaux style blends like Elu.

A few food pairings you might like:

Southwest Skillet Steak

Filet with Blue Cheese Porcini Sauce

HOW TO engage a global audience

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Social gatherings used to be limited only to people in a single physical location like a bar or conference.  Now social gatherings extend past the walls of one location to the online social sites where conversation around a single subject can be scaled up. “Tweetups” blur the lines between in-person and online participation. For businesses big and small, these global niche events — such as Mashable’s Social Media Day or St. Supéry's #Cabernet Day, can be a great way to target and connect with people around a single subject.

On September 2nd, St. Supéry winery used meetup.com to engage people around the world in a celebration of wine called #Cabernet day.  Over a 24 hour period, over a thousand online wine drinkers and people at 75 real life meetups all posted messages across social sites like Facebook, Twitter, Foursquare, Flickr, Gowalla and YouTube.

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Mobilizing a global audience online and offline can be organized by one or two people using these strategies:

Find a common passion- Commonality leads to community.  Find your community using search tools Twitter Search, Yahoo Upcoming, Facebook or Plancast.

Have one central RSVP page- Keep it simple by driving everyone to one single page.  One page is easier to measure metrics from and it’s easier to organize one single event, even with multiple locations.  Jazz the page up a bit by adding a Twitter stream of tweets featuring the hash tag. Popular RSVP sites for social events are:

Eventbrite.com – Eventbrite is a solid option for posting and tracking RSVP’s.  Organizers can customize their page with graphics, Google Analytics, custom headers, links to the organizer and export tools for attendees to export to their calendar and announce it on their social sites.

MogoTix.com – Deliver tickets to attendees on their phones.  MogoTix will text you an image of your ticket with a scanable QR code.

Establish a unique short hash tag- Hash tags are the thread that hold the online conversations together.  They’re also what make a global conversation possible.  Every tweet, Facebook post, location check in or blog post in any country can be tracked real time using Twitter Search, Tweetdeck, or Booshaka for Facebook.  No matter where people are located, they can send or search posts using the hash tag.

Add the hash tag to the tagalus.com directory and open a search column in Tweetdeck to track the tag.

Engage participants- Online conversations work well when they’re extensions of in-person interactions.  Facilitate satellite events in different cities.  For #Cabernet, meetup.com/anywhere was used to schedule in-person gatherings in cities around the globe.  In the meetup descriptions, attendees were prompted on what the bigger social media message was and which hashtag to use.  For global events, it’s a good idea to make it a full day so “attendees” in different time zones can plan accordingly.  Another great tool is Plancast.  Plancast.com has a similar feel as Twitter, but instead of tweets you post plans.  People can subscribe to your plans, and they can opt in.

Add a Twitter stream everyone can see- Duing the event, make the conversation visual.  No matter how loud it is in a venue or a tweetup, you can still see what people are saying.  Twitter streams are often projected onto a large screen to show the real time conversation.  Twitterfall.com displays tweets with a keyword (you define) in a constant stream similar to a water fall.  You can set more than one search term—each one will be color-coded.

Share the Love- If you want to witness the power of social media, give all sponsors, hosts and contributors visibility equally.  You create a community-driven event where everyone has a vested interest in the overall success.  Show the logos of contributors on the main (Eventbrite) page, so they in turn have a reason to promote the event to their community.  The more they promote the event, the more they’ll collectively drive a larger audience to the main event page.

Have additional tools for engaging a global audience?  Leave them in the comments below.

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Santa Claus, Loch Ness Monster and Social Media Experts

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Santa Claus with a little girl
Image via Wikipedia

A few weeks ago I was pitched (again) by a "social media guru" from San Francisco.  After meeting him through a friend of a friend, and about 17 emails I finally gave in and invited him to stop by the winery.  Seems like I'm getting pitched every week by another social media expert who has all the answers to our wine business needs.  I was hoping this guy would have something different to say, or at least I was hoping he would take the time to look at the wine industry for real, and not just the romanticized vision of it.

I see him roll up in his recently buffed pearl white Mercedes SUV and slicked back hair, and I knew right away what this guy was about.  In my mind, he represents what's wrong with the social media landscape right now.  So many businesses are realizing they want to "socialize" themselves, but they don't know how to do it.  Suddenly, out of the woodwork comes armies of "gurus" and "experts" with all the answers.  The wine industry is especially susceptible because wineries aren't especially tech-savvy.  It's easy to be confused by snake oil salesmen promising big numbers.

So I listen to the pitch about all the powerful social media ROI his team can produce, and I wait until the end.  I asked the guy what he knew about our winery.  "Nothing," he replied.  I asked him who he thought were the wineries who were succeeding with social media.  "There's a winery in Illinois called Lynfred Winery, but no one around here," he said.  I thanked him for his time and sent him on his way.  He failed to do any research about me as a potential client, and he failed to look at the wine/social landscape.  I think they call that due diligence.  I had looked into his online efforts before he arrived, and discovered he didn't even have a Twitter handle, nor a Facebook page.  Basically, he and his team go into blog comments on behalf of clients and essentially spam the hell out of wine blogs.

It seems many wineries may have similar experiences, which is probably causing confusion.  In my job as the Director of Social Media for St. Supéry, I live and breathe this stuff every day, and I feel like we're just now starting to understand it.  Through a lot of trial and error we've had some successes and some things that didn't work.  After a year and two months in my role, I am just now starting to feel like I'm getting enough experience to no longer be called a beginner.  Maybe intermediate...maybe. . .

Some people say you have to do something at least 10,000 times before you can be considered an expert in anything.

. . For wineries trying to make sense out of who to trust and who not to, I put together a few tips that should help determine if someone is capable of executing any sort of social media campaign: 1. What is their Klout score? Klout.com is a tool that helps measure influence.  Influence is established by having an idea of what you're doing.  Amazingly, many social media experts have very low Klout scores.  Hmmmm  Bullshit meter is already starting to hum.

2. Do they have a LinkedIn, Facebook, Twitter and blog presence? Those are kind of the main social sites these days.  If they're going to build your business online, they need to show mastery of those sites.  Understanding how all the social sites fit together is critical because web 2.0 is all about open source, or the ability to share between sites.

3. Are they promising ROI? Hardly anyone has figured out how to manufacture and measure ROI.  Even the Old Spice campaign, which is considered to be one of the best social media efforts in history isn't fully understood yet in terms of ROI.  You can't promise a certain increase in followers, fans or ROI because all those things are out of your control.  Free will can't be manipulated, and that's what social media is.  You can't make someone become a Facebook fan or follow organically.  The only way is through gimmicks like contests or something that bumps numbers up, but doesn't create an authentic connection.

4. What do their online conversations look like? There's a social media "expert" in Northern California who's Twitter stream is only Foursquare checkins.  No actual conversation are taking place.  Having engaging conversations is a pretty important part of the equation.

5. If they can't build their brand online, they can't build yours Sounds obvious, but there's truth to that statement.  Walking the walk and talking the talk is important because it demonstrates how well someone can do what they're saying you should do.

I'm going to make a blanket statement and say anyone who refers to themselves as a Social Media Guru or Expert isn't.  Ironically, this is the easiest way to find the people are aren't.  Like Santa Claus and Nessie of Loch Ness, Social Media Experts don't exist.

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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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Top 10 Bacon Recipes of 2009

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Here it is loyal bacon fans, this year's list of crisp, savory delectables that are sure to light up your taste buds like a pinball machine.  A year ago I provided a list of the top 10 bacon recipes for 2008 that you can see updated here.  This year, bacon became the cosmic glue that wove social media sites together.  There were highlights, and there were lowlights...well, the lowlights were most likely everyone's lipid profile at the doctor.

I selected this year's recipes based on a combination of pushing the boundaries of how bacon should be used and ease of making the recipes.  So here you go in no particular order:

1. Bacon Wrapped Mashed Potatoes

That's right, I said it.  Bacon wrapped around mashed potatoes.  You may want to mow down some Lipitor and fish oil pills before taking on this dish.  It's really quite simple—make the mash potatoes, and if you're like my Mom or Paula Deen, you put a stick of butter in your potatoes.  Because I'm a real health nut, I only put a half stick of butter.  Keep the milk to a minimum because you want the potatoes to have the consistency of spackle.

Once you make the potatoes, slow cook some bacon in a pan half way.  You want to cook the bacon just enough that it starts to crisp, but you can still bend it without breaking.  Let the bacon cool on a paper towel, then weave the bacon together like fabric.  Put the bacon on a cookie sheet then put a dollop of mash potatoes in on the woven pig products.  Wrap the bacon around said potatoes, then bake until the bacon gets crispy.

If you really want to throw caution to the wind, put some cheese in there just to give your arteries the finger.

2. Bacon Candy

I didn't have to look too far for this gem.  As it turns out, this recipe was the catalyst that led to my being hired at St. Supéry winery.  Back in March, Lisa DeBruin aka winedivergirl and I were talking about bacon.  She mentioned she had a friend who had been experimenting with this recipe.  That person turned out to be LesleyKeffer who is now my boss at the winery.  See what happens when you follow your love of bacon?

The recipe is simple: Crisp, savory bacon with BBQ rub, caramel, semisweet chocolate and crystallized ginger.  Check it here.

How lucky am I to work for someone who loves bacon as much as I do?  I freakin' scored!

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3. The Bacon Smootie

My wife was none to pleased when she saw what I was putting in our blender.  I'm not going to lie, it's kinda weird. But it works.  The reason why is the chocolate, which goes with bacon quite nicely.  And chocolate also goes with raspberries, so together, the chocolate, raspberries and bacon are like the Voltron of savory flavor.  The recipe was very tasty, but gasey.  Go here to get the original recipe that started it all.

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4. Bacon Wrapped French Toast Sticks

Contrary to popular belief, this masterpiece is NOT made with Twinkies, it's made with french toast sticks.  Of course if you really had no concern for your own well being you could substitute Twinkies, but I think the creme filling would be gross.  By using french toast sticks this actually qualifies as breakfast rather than a late night snack put together after too many bong rips.  The judges have awarded the Stonehenge concept with high marks, but the execution was lazy, so the judges had to dock them a few points because it wasn't to scale.

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5. The Lowrider Pizza

This recipe is based on a pie served at Proto's in Colorado.  We took something good and made it orgasmic!  How? you might ask.  By adding more crisp, savory bacon.

Get yourself an unbaked pizza crust (we like the Pilsbury pizza dough at most grocery stores).  In a bowl, mix together tomato sauce with about a TSP of chipotle Tabasco sauce or some other chipotle sauce.  Add a little more to give the sauce a little Jackie Chan kick to your tongue if you'd like.  Cover the pizza with shredded mozzarella, crisp bacon bits, small red onion slice and pineapple chunks.  Don't hate on the pineapple going on the pizza, it serves a purpose which is to counter the spice of the chipotle.  Bake the pizza as fast as you can, then cover the pie with chopped cilantro.

Of course, when in doubt, add some more crisp savory bacon bits.  It's a simple pizza to make, but a good twist to feature the bacon.

lowrider baby, yeah!

6. Bouef a la Bourguignonne

This might be one of my favorite recipes of all time for winter.  It has two of my favorite things in life— bacon and wine.  Yum!  This is a hearty dish that you slow cook all day before serving.  It requires a little foresight and preparation the day before, but when you do it right it'll all be worth it.

The recipe calls for 4OZ. of bacon, but by all means don't let that stop you from adding more :D  The meat you select is important, don't get the cheap stew meat, even though it'll be tender, get something that's tender to start with.  Tri tip is a good choice.

Get the recipe here

7. Maple Bacon Cinnamon Rolls

I nearly blew my 'O' ring when I first tried this breakfast item.  I mean, come on, it's bacon wrapped or sprinkled onto or into cinnamon rolls.  Now is probably a good time to make a public service announcement about not eating all these recipes in the same week.  Space it out.  Your doctor will thank you for it.

The recipe is available from Delicious Coma and can be found here.

photo via Delicious Coma

8. Emeril's Brussels Sprouts with Bacon (Video)

Emeril made last year's Top 10 bacon list too.  Hmmm, this guy might be onto something.  This recipe was selected because you need vegetables from time to time, and what makes vegetables better?  Yep.  You got it.

Get it here

photo via Food Network

9. Heirloom Grilled Cheese Sammich w/ Tomato Bacon Soup

Comfort food plain and simple.  It's quick and easy to make and when you think about it, what else do you need in life?  Many of the essential food groups are represented here, which is nice.  Anytime you can get vegetables in with your bacon it's a good thing.

When I saw this recipe from Rick Massa on the Food Network site, I was hooked.  You will be too which is why it's on the top ten list.

10. You Call It!

There are so many great bacon recipes, and throughout the year I've talked to many creative people online who have great uses for bacon, so we're going to crowd source the final pick of the list.  Leave a comment below and let me know which bacon recipe YOU think should be on the top ten.  See you in 2010!

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