5 Tips to participating in #Chardonnay day May 26th

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Thursday May 26th, 2011 will be the second annual global celebration of Chardonnay known as #Chardonnay day.  The hope is for this idea (along with #Cabernet day) can grow into annual holidays.  Anyone who loves wine is welcome to participate in #Chardonnay day, all you need is some wine in your glass.  Register here - #Chardonnay page

 

Here's some tips on how to be part of the global celebration:

  1. Organize a get together at your home, winery, restaurant or wine shop.  Add it to the Meetup.com/Chardonnay list so others know where to go.

  2. On May 26th, share any photos, videos, blog posts or any other stuff making sure to include #Chardonnay in your posting.  You can post on Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, Wordpress, Plancast, Foursquare, Gowalla or any other social media site.

  3. See what other people are saying by searching "#Chardonnay" on Google, search.twitter.com, Tweetdeck, kurrently or Twitterfall.

  4. Get wines like Chardonnay, White Burgundy, Blanc de Blancs (or other sparkling made with Chardonnay) and get friends together to geek out.

  5. Have fun.  It's like a giant dining room table where everyone can pull up a chair and join the conversation.

That's all there is to it.  You'll be seeing wine lovers and wineries talking to each other.  This community will come together for one day only, so make the most of it!  It's your chance to connect with fellow wine lovers.  See you online or in person May 26th.  Cheers!

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

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Oak wine barrels at the Robert Mondavi vineyar...
Image via Wikipedia

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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Vintage 2010 in Napa Valley: Sugar and Acidity

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Napa Valley
Image via Wikipedia

Two of the important things to look for in a wine are the fruit and the acidity.  There are a few easy ways to detect these markers in a wine.  You may have heard a wine described as "New World" or "Old World".  When you hear that, it's another way to say the wine is fruit-driven or acid-driven.

Basically, hot temperatures raise sugar content, and cold temperatures raise acidity.

But what do those things taste like?  Sugar content is perceived in New World wines via fruit-driven structure, and can describe wines from regions like the U.S., Argentina, Australia and New Zealand.  Acidity drives the structure in wines grown in colder climates like France, Germany and other European regions.  Many of those soils tend to be Limestone or gravel, rather than a volcanic soil like you might find in the U.S..  The way you sense acid is on the roof of your mouth towards the back.  If you swallow the wine and you get a lingering sensation in that area, you are picking up acidity.  Fruit driven wines tend to be sweeter and jammier, showing up on the front of the tongue (or palate).

In Napa Valley, there's a nice mix of temperatures that give the wines heat during the day, and cold temperatures at night.  The fruit and acidity live in concert with each other, but overall the wines are fruit driven.  This year, however, Napa is experiencing one of the coldest summers on record.  Know how you know that?  Well, besides the weatherman telling us so, Napa is usually starting harvest at this time of year.  But this year, grapes are still hanging on the vine because the fruit isn't ripe enough yet.  Harvest may not start for another three weeks  almost a month behind schedule!  That could be perceived as a bad thing, but it's not if you have the right wine maker.  What Napa may end up with is a rarity they don't have very often, which is higher than normal acid levels in the wines along with the higher sugar levels.  A winemaker who knows what they're doing may find their fruit has the best of both worlds.

Usually, Napa Valley gets a morning fog influence from the San Pablo bay that cools the grapes at night.  That blanket of fog is consistent almost every day in the summer months as the center of California heats up.  By mid day the fog burns off providing the right amount of heat and sunshine to increase sugar levels.  This is different than say, Walla Walla, Washtington where longer days at a higher latitude provide more sunshine for ripening, and cool temperatures at night.  At that latitude you're getting closer to Alaska, where summer days seem to last until midnight.  The sun is lower on the horizon, which means the heat isn't as intense.

So when you get to try any 2010 vintage wines from Napa, look for the acidity on the roof of your mouth toward the back.  The verdict on vintage 2010 will be out until the reds get released into the marketing some time in 2013.  Cheers!

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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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Penfold's Grange Wine+Food Vertical Tasting

IMG_3128 My Father-in-law called me up a few weeks ago and said, "I've got a vertical of Grange we should drink".  We talked a bit about how best to enjoy these stellar bottles and decided to do a vertical tasting with food pairings the day after Thanksgiving.  After doing a little research, we found some great tasting notes for the 1992-1995 Penfold's Grange.

If you aren't familiar with Grange, it's a wine conceived by Max Schubert, grown and produced by Penfold's in Australia, and is considered to be Australia's "first growth".  That means it's compared to the finest Bordeaux first growth's like Chateau Margaux, Lafite Rothschild, Chateau Haut Brion and Chateau Latour.  The Grange blend was created in 1951 as an experimental blend by the then winemaker for Penfold's.  He wanted to create an Australian wine to rival France's most sought after wines with quality and agability.

The Grange was initially met with negative reviews from the press because it didn't have the drinkability upon release.  Schubert was ordered to discontinue making the blend, however, he persisted.  A few years later, the Grange blend finally received the accolades it deserved which was about right because the wine wasn't made to drink right away, it was meant to be a wine that's aged before drinking.  The following wine notes and recipes were part of the tasting:

1992 Grange 93 points from Robert Parker Out of all the wines in the vertical, this one resembled a Bordeaux the most. It wasn't overly fruity or extracted but rather terroir-driven with refined fruit at its peak showing notes of elegance and aging. If tasted blind, I doubt many people would even guess this was an Australian wine. The Shiraz wasn't big and jammy like many Aussie Shiraz', it was restrained as was the Cabernet netting a mere 13.5% ALC.

1993 Grange 91 point from Robert Parker The '93 was interesting as tasted in context to the other vintages. It showed signs of age and refinement but was still in its peak drinking window. Overall, this vintage was not rated that high but astute wine making was apparent as this Grange also showed finesse with a hint of younger fruit.

1994 Grange 91 points from Robert Parker After smelling and tasting the 1992 and 1993, the 1994 started to resemble an Australian wine. Riper fruit, more youthful tasting with a tad more sweetness on the palate. Notes of blackberry, stewed plums, toasty oak and more density from the 89% Shiraz 11% Cabernet blend. This wine has a few more years of aging ahead of it but was already demonstrating why Grange is such a sought after wine.

1995 Grange 92 points from Robert Parker The 1995 was the most acidic wine out of all four. Sweet blackberry liquer, ripe fruit and plenty of aging potential ahead of it. After tasting all 4 vintages in order, the '95 was so much more youthful than the 1992. There was a distinct progression of age across all four vintages.

we threw in a 1996 Shiraz for good measure

Of course, great wine deserves great food.  So we set out to find the perfect food pairings to go with these stellar wines.  Here are a few of the recipe items we made, and they were SUBLIME!  Absolutely stunning pairings.  Many Aussie Shiraz's are rich and jammy, but the Grange is a wine of finesse and elegance.  Although it's a blend of Cabernet and Shiraz, it's not necessarily a wine to go with beef.  We wanted something more exotic and luxurious.  Here's what we came up with:

duck-cherry-ck-1227925-l Duck with Port-Cherry Sauce

INGREDIENTS 1 cup Soy Sauce 1 cup Sherry 4 6-OZ duck breast halves 12 frozen dark sweet cherries, thawed and halved 1 cup chicken stock 1 cup beef stock 1/2 cup ruby port 1 fresh thyme sprig 1 TSP cornstarch dissolved into 2 TBSP water 1/4 cup butter, cut into 1/2-inch pieces

Whisk soy sauce and Sherry in medium bowl to blend. Using a sharp knife, make diagonal slits on the duck breasts 1/2-inch apart making sure to not cut too deep (not through meat). Place duck, skin side up into glass baking dish. Pour marinade over. Cover duck with plastic wrap and refrigerate at least 2 hours and up to 6 hours. Bring cherries, chicken stock, beef stock, port and thyme spring to boil in a heavy medium saucepan over high heat. Simmer until mixture is reduced to 1/2 cup.

marinate the duck breasts

Meanwhile, heat heavy large skillet over medium heat. Remove duck from marinade. Add duck breasts, skin side down to skillet. Cook until skin is crispy, about 10 minutes. Turn duck over and continue cooking to desired doneness, about 5 minutes for medium. Transfer duck to cutting board or other surface. Add cornstarch mixture to port-cherry sauce. Bring to simmer, whisking constantly. Add butter one piece at a time until melted.

Slice duck breast and fan out on plates. Spoon sauce over duck then serve.

Presidential Rack of Lamb a la Richelieu When President and Mrs Reagan visited Paris in the mid 1980's they did have many official functions including a diplomatic dinner with President and Madame Francoise Mitterand at the Elysee Palace (the White House of France) Naturally, the diplomatic decorum demanded that the American guests of honor should return the invitation. The Reagans were staying at the US Embassy and decided to honor the French President and first lady with non American food. The chefs at the US Embassy were French chefs. The Lamb recipe is very fancy in terms of prestige. It was put together by chef Auguste Esccoffier at the turn of the 20th century. It was named in honor of Cardinal Armand de Richelieu, who was chief minister to King Louis XIII in the 17th century.

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INGREDIENTS 2 racks, 6 chops each., have the butcher cut the chine bone for easy serving of chops.

Marinade: 1/2 bottle of white wine 1/2 cup of quality olive oil 1 medium onion sliced 1 whole bay leaf crumbled 1/2 teaspoon of dried marjoram, or 2 TBSP of fresh if available 8 black peppercorns, coarsly crushed 1/2 TSP of dried thyme, or 2 TSP of fresh salt to taste

Marination needs to be a minimum of 4 hr. Overnight would be good. Keep turning and spoon over the rack.

Place in the oven and grill at 450 degrees for 30-40 minutes depending on cooking level preferred. Keep to lamb warm in the oven while the sauce is being made.

Sauce: Place the drippings in a fry pan. Remove some of the fat. Add a cup of port or madeira. Reduce under high heat. Whisk in 3 tablespoons of butter one at a time. Serve the sauce in a gravy boat at the table.

marinate AT LEAST 4 Hrs.

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Bakas TV#15: Willamette Valley Road Trip

Oregon's Willamette Valley is a beautiful place to visit with lush, rolling hillsides and surrounding farm communities.  This time of year is especially nice in the valley because harvest is happening, and it's the time of year when the sun is out for more than one day in a row.  I lived in Portland for 17 years and I can say without a doubt, when the sun is shining, Oregon is the most picturesque place in the U.S. A drive through the Willamette Valley is filled with hidden roads around the bend or over a gentle slope, passing country markets and pumpkin patches along the way.

Farmscape of The Willamette Valley in northern...
Image via Wikipedia

During my time living in Oregon, I fell in love with the Pinot Noirs.  Not hard to do...if you've ever had a good Pinot Noir, it's magic in a bottle.  But if you get it wrong, Pinot Noir can be disappointing and uninspiring.  I find it to be one of the most dramatic grapes in terms of end result.  With grapes like Cabernet or Merlot you can get more consistency year in and year out whereas Pinot Noir is much more temperamental.  You can't handle it the same you handle Cabernet—it requires a more delicate hand.  In fact, wineries often use gravity flow instead of pumps when transferring Pinot from one place to another because it's that sensitive. You'll notice the average price point of a decent Pinot is higher than other grapes, in part because of the extra handling required.

Pinot Noir is a wonderful grape, and it grows exceptionally well in Oregon's Willamette Valley in part because Oregon is situated along the 45th parallel. The climate and terroir in Oregon's fertile Willamette Valley provides ideal growing conditions for the finicky grape. When I met my wife, she was an Australian Shiraz drinker, but then I took her to Oregon and introduced her to good Pinot Noir—now she's hooked! Pinot is a very food friendly wine that goes with so many different kinds of foods it's not even funny. Well, maybe a little bit funny.

After driving up I-5 I arrived in McMinnville, Oregon and checked into McMenamins Hotel Oregon. I headed up to the Rooftop bar to get on my laptop and get some work done. As I sat at my table enjoying a pint of Oktoberfest, I plotted out the next day's itinerary.  At the table next to me were two guys who had been working harvest that day.  They were nice enough to provide some pointers.

McMenamins Hotel Oregon

I awoke the next morning to find a silver tint to the clouded sky overhead. Looking out my hotel window over downtown McMinnville was like a trip back in time to 1950. The old fashioned downtown has a tree lined Main street with old fashioned appliance stores and warm cafes. After getting a fresh baked item from Red Fox Bakery, I headed out to Oregon wine country.

In the south part of the Willamette Valley you'll find long time producers Cristom and Bethel Heights. Both are family owned, and both have been making stellar Pinot Noir since the 1970's. I walked into Bethel Heights to be greeted by a warm aroma of homemade cooking. Right there in their tasting room, one of the founders was making Salmon Chowder (with BACON) for the crew. Another day of harvest was complete and the troops were hungry. I tasted through the Bethel Heights lineup, finding myself going back in time to when I first discovered Pinot nearly 15 years ago. Their whites were good, but their reds were better. I was especially interested in the Southest Block Pinot Noir. That, and the Justice Vineyard Pinot Noirs were every bit as good as what I remember. I took all sorts of great footage of their winemakers picking through grapes that had just come in, but that was lost in the transfer. The view from Bethel Heights tasting room was unreal. You step out onto the balcony and about 10 feet below is the downward sloping vineyard that seems to go on forever. The owner/winemaker mentioned 2009's vintage as not only very good quality, but there were large crops. That's means there's going to be plenty of good Pinot Noir to go around for everyone when the wines are released.

Next stop was Cristom, one of my top 3 favorite producers in Oregon.  Cristom has vineyards that were planted back in the 1970's which is cool because older vines means more complex wines.  The first wine I tasted was the 2006 Pinot Gris, which is made entirely from the 5-acre estate vineyard Emilia. You drink their Gris and it reminds you Oregon makes exceptional wines besides Pinot Noir. This Gris was floral and fun to take for a spin. But I was there for the reds. The Louise, Marjorie and Eileen Pinot Noirs didn't disappoint. All three remind me of three sisters I used to party with back in college who were always the fun girls invited to every social function. Each one has its own personality, but together they all share a common bond. Each year those sisters continually find the balance and walk the line between good girls and frisky while making their parents proud. I left with more bottles than I had intended :D

Last stop was Sokol Blosser, located smack dab in the middle of Oregon's wine country.

@sokolblosser wines

@sokolblosser vineyards

I spent the afternoon with Kitri and Jeff from Sokol Blosser. They took me to the Dundee Bistro, a place that used to have an after meal bacon dish. Sadly, the bistro no longer served that. After lunch (photos are lost) we went next door to the Ponzi tasting bar. There we were able to taste through all sorts of different Oregon wines. Again, I left with more bottles than I had planned but my wife and I are going to drink well for a while :)

Kitri and Jeff were great hosts, and gave me a tour of the winery, barrel room and vineyards. Sokol Blosser is not only one of Oregon's oldest wineries, with some of the oldest vineyards, but they also have the first LEEDS certified winery in the U.S. and practice sustainable farming habits. You might know Sokol Blosser best from their Evolution white wine sold in just about every liquor store across the U.S. The most recent version of Evolution is like the old style—not too dry. We tasted through different vintages of Pinot Noir from different vineyards but the one that really gave me the OMG! reaction was their 2004 Willamette Valley Cuvee. WOW! Everything a Pinot Noir should be. Silky, sexy a great dancer but looks great in an evening gown. A real classy version of a high society wine.

Portland Farmer's Market

Before heading back to Napa, I visited some friends in Portland and spent the day Saturday frequenting farmer's markets.  Besides having incredible Pinot Noirs, Oregon has just about everything else you could want if you enjoy food and wine.  There's local seafood, cattle ranches and local organic produce farms within an hour's drive from Portland.  This was a fun little weekend and when I come back it won't be soon enough.  Cheers!

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East Coast Wine Tweetup Tour in October

Image representing Twitter as depicted in Crun...
Image via CrunchBase

I'm going out on the road and I need some dedicated wine drinkers to come help me drink some delicious wines.

Hard to believe how things unfolded over this summer.  On August 3rd, the Bakas family moved to Napa Valley so I could start my new role as Director of Social Media Marketing at St. Supéry winery.  The first 60 days have been a blast not only from talking wine and food all day, but also because #harvest09 was just beginning. In October, I'll be taking the winery tasting room experience on the road for the wine industry's first ever Tweetup Tour. I'll be stopping in each city listed below visiting restaurants and wine shops sharing the delicious nectar known as St. Supéry.   All are welcome as there is no charge to attend. St. Supéry wine club members will enjoy club member benefits at these events.  We'll have special guests, including our wine maker and chef, who will be appearing via U-Stream.

If you aren't able to be there physically, you can follow along on St.Supery's custom TasteLive page or Twitter using the #stsupery hash tag.  In an effort to get wine drinkers to taste along online, the winery has created "taste packs," 4-packs of wine sold at a discounted price.

St. Supéry East Coast Tweetup Tour (click on the city below to RSVP to that event)-

October 13th BOSTON Twitter Taste Live with Bin Ends Wine October 14th NEW JERSEY at Gary's Wine & Marketplace October 15th NEW YORK CITY Roger Smith Hotel October 16th NEW YORK CITY Harry's Cafe & Steakhouse in the Financial District October 20th ATLANTA at Murhpy's October 20th ATLANTA WINE SCHOOL hosted by Ed Thralls aka @winetonite October 22nd WASHINGTON DC at Pearson's (speaking at TWTRCON that day) October 23rd *to be announced October 24th ORLANDO at Gran Cru

Hope to see you there!  This is going to be fun so grab your tickets now...

Cheers,

Rick

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