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Do Wine Blogs Impact Your Brand? New Study Highlights Wine Blogger Activity

Date: Mon, Aug 24, 2009 Wine Tasting

A few weeks ago, I read a very interesting article on WINE BUSINESS.com and have tried several times since to summarize the findings in a meaningful way. Maybe my schedule has been to hectic or I'm losing my touch, but I couldn't do it, so I'm reprinting the article in its entirety here on my blog. Enjoy - there's some interesting stuff in here for bloggers, wineries, PR firms and anyone else who has even a passing interest in wine blogging.

Reprinted from WINE BUSINESS.com...

Do Wine Blogs Impact Your Brand? New Study Highlights Wine Blogger Activity. By Liz Thach, Ph.D., SSU Wine Business Professor

Should wineries pay attention to what wine bloggers are writing? Do they really have an impact on a wine brand? According to a new study just completed by Sonoma State University Wine Business Institute, it appears that the answer is yes -- especially for wineries with less well-known brands or located in new and upcoming wine regions.

How Many Wine Blogs Are There Anyway?

In order to conduct the study, it was necessary to obtain a random sample, so we consulted the Complete List of Wine Blogs, compiled by Alder Yarrow at www.vinography.com. You may be amazed to know that in the last 5 years, the number of wine blogs has grown from 1 to over 700. Of these, more than 570 wine blogs are in English, with an additional 170+ wine blogs in other languages, including Italian, French, Catalan, Czech, German, Spanish, Dutch, Japanese, Chinese, Portuguese, Hungarian, Norwegian, and Indonesian.

Focusing on the English language wine blogs, we applied a decision rule of selecting a minimum of 10 blogs per alpha letter, and discarding those blogs that were not active. This resulted in a total sample of 222 blogs which were subjected to content analysis by 42 trained wine business students.

The 9 Major Categories of Wine Blogs

The first analysis included a thematic sorting of the blogs by major topic. This resulted in 9 categories as illustrated in the chart below. The most common type of blog is a Wine Review for which an individual blogger tastes and writes a review of the wine -- usually adding a rating from the standard 100, 20, or 5 point wine rating scales. Blogs on Wine & Food with matching recipes, as well as information on restaurants was the 2nd largest category. This was followed by Wine Education where the blogger educates the reader on wine issues such as wine styles, varietals, how to taste wine and related topics. Blogs that focused specifically on Winemaking and Viticulture were placed in a separate category. In addition, there were blogs that focused on Specific Wine Regions, such as a city, state, appellation or country. Some examples we found included Washington D.C., New Orleans, San Francisco, Paris, Seattle, Washington State, Oregon, California, and Britain. These blogs also emphasized wine shops and/or wineries available in these areas, as well as restaurants. A related category was Wine & Culture which focused on the association of wine with art, poetry, music, and literature. Only 9% of the sample included Winery Blogs -- or those created by wineries to describe their wines and news at the winery. This illustrates an opportunity for more wineries to create their own blog. Other less frequent blog categories included Wine Business and Winemaking & Viticulture. The category of Other was created for those very unique blogs that didn't fit into major themes. Examples included "wine & hiking; wine & politics; wine under $20; and an emphasis on a specific grape, such as shiraz.

Numbers of Wine Brands and Ads on Blogs

Other analyses included counting and recording the number of wine brands and advertisements on the first page of each blog (we did not analyze older posts). Amazingly within the 222 wine blogs, 813 different wine brands were listed. These were sorted to determine which wine brands were cited most often. Interestingly only 3 brands were listed 4 or more times: Kendall-Jackson, Ridge and Penfolds. This analysis showed that many small unknown wine brands are described on blogs, as well as international brands from around the world.

Just under half of the sample (47%) included advertisements on the blog, for a total of 451 ads. These varied from simple ads provided by Google, to sophisticated winery, food, and wine product ads. It is important to note that the major way wine bloggers create revenue is through online ads, with professional bloggers able to make $20,000 - $30,000 per year in this fashion. Most wine bloggers have other jobs to supplement their online income. (Note: There have been some ethical discussions at the past two Wine Blogger's Conferences as to whether or not bloggers should accept ads from wine brands they review.)

Why Should Wineries Pay Attention to Bloggers?

There are several reasons that wineries need to pay attention to wine bloggers. The first is that the number of wine blogs is continuing to grow, and this provides an opportunity for wineries to have their brands featured on blogs. For wineries with a small public relations budget or those that can't get the attention of the larger media publications, this can be a positive alternative -- especially since some of the more popular wine blogs have thousands of followers and receive 30,000 to 40,000 hits per month.

Another reason is that we have entered a period of "democratization of media on the Internet." This means that anyone can easily establish a wine blog on the Internet using free blogging software (wordpress.com; blogspot.com; typepad.com, etc.). Since there are no official guidelines regarding what can be published, the stories and reviews may be positive or negative. Likewise, bloggers have diverse backgrounds in that some have a high level of wine knowledge and experience, whereas others have none and just want to share their viewpoints on wine. Therefore, in terms of writing quality and level of sophistication of wine blogs, there is great variation. Because of this wineries need to monitor what is being said about their brands online.

How Can Wineries Work With Wine Bloggers?

The advent of wine blogs and other Wine 2.0 applications (social networking sites, online videos, podcasts, message boards, etc.) has created both more opportunities and more work for the public relations function within wineries. Because of the fact that your brand may be discussed online by anyone who happens to buy a bottle -- and that the story can easily be circulated around the globe in a matter of hours, it is important to pay attention:
  • Monitor your brand online to keep track of what people are saying about you. Most wineries have now utilized the Google Alert system, but there are others such as Twitter Search, http://www.trackur.com, and http://www.monitter.com which can provide more information.
  • If you find a positive review or mention of your name, consider sending an email to thank the blogger for featuring you.
  • If you find a negative review, contact the blogger and ask them for more information. Consider inviting them to visit your winery or a tasting you are hosting so they can learn more about you. DO NOT get in an "online flame war" with a blogger (which has happened in the past).
  • Identify several wine blogs you enjoy reading and keep track of them to see what topics are "hot" on the blogs.
  • If you are a new winery with a less well-known brand consider contacting the blogmaster of wine blogs which interest you. Invite them to visit or taste your wine.
  • If you are in a wine region that is less well-known, identify bloggers who write about your region and invite them to visit or taste your wine.
  • If you are considering starting your own winery blog, make sure to implement it in a professional manner. This means making sure to write new posts at least once a week, but preferably more often. It also means writing interesting stories about what is happening at the winery and other issues, rather than just trying to market your wine. Finally, it means monitoring and responding to the people who post on your blog.

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Owen Roe Winery - Part 3

Date: Fri, Aug 14, 2009 Wine Tasting

On to part 3 of my Owen Roe series (you can find the other posts here - Owen Roe Winery & Owen Roe Winery Part 2). At first, I thought this would be a 3 post series, but, given some additional feedback from a few of you, I think I'll extend it out one more post to include 2 or 3 more Owen Roe wines - look for Part 4 soon.

For this post, a little bit more about the winemaker at Owen Roe – David O'Reilly…a "...dapper man - meticulous in appearance and in his work...with a great palate and...one of the best marketing people in the state" (source: Avalonwine.com). Sounds right, given his success at Owen Roe and other projects, although I've never met him so can't say for certain if his appearance is meticulous. One thing I did not know about David until I started researching Owen Roe was that for 6 years, from 1992 - 1998, he was at Elk Cove winery in the marketing department. Elk Cove is one of our favorite Oregon wines, so much so that my wife I had their Pinot Noir at our wedding. In other words, he had me at "Elk Cove."

Eventually, David's eye moved to making wine and not just marketing wine, which, in my opinion, has created a powerhouse combination for Owen Roe. Not many winemakers have the marketing background he does and both that and his winemaking skills have served him and Owen Roe very well. With 43 wines scoring a 90 or better on Wine Spectator, it’s hard to argue with their success.

Most importantly, however, is what’s behind it all, what really matters. David is not a person drawn to wine business because he had millions in .com stock proceeds, nor did he see it as a second career after a long run at corporate life. In his words, “You don’t get into this business to make a fortune – I was drawn to it.” You can taste that sentiment in his wines. For me, I’ve always tasted something just a little different, a little unique about Owen Roe’s wines – nothing overly experimental, but at the same time nothing manufactured or catered to critic’s palates. These are just well made wines that are grounded in great fruit and nature.

With that, let's get to the wines for today - the 2007 Owen Roe Cabernet Franc Rosa Mystica and the 2006 Owen Roe Dubrul Vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon.

2007 Owen Roe Cabernet Franc Rosa Mystica (bottle 7000 or 7728)
At $42 a bottle, this is no Lady Rosa (which is turning out to be the best Owen Roe of the tasting thus far), but a fine wine in it’s own right. On the nose, berry, plum, dust, mint and heat (a little more heat than I tend to like). Very similar in the mouth, but with a more distinct raspberry and blackcurrant taste. It’s surprisingly light in color for a Cabernet Franc, but with solid acidity and mild tannins. Ends with a nice and long, albeit hot, finish.

What you should do: Buy it. It’s definitely worth trying. Not my favorite of the tasting so far, but very much stands on its own. A nice wine to have for a dinner party for guests who deserve a $42 bottle of wine. Otherwise, keep it for yourself – decant it for an hour before drinking and enjoy every sip.

My rating: 89

2006 Owen Roe Dubrul Vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon (7497 of 9216 bottles)
I find it interesting that both of these bottles are labeled with the bottle number. With a flair for marketing, these guys definitely know what resonates with wine consumers – when there’s a number on the bottle, it feels special and unique, almost as if David signed it for you at the winery, but only after rifling through reams of dusty old books to find the right bottle number.

HUGE nose on this thing. In fact, I had to pull the glass away from my nose on the first sniff – interesting aromas, but almost as if they all settled in the glass like a trapped bee, just waiting to seize on any innocent nose it could find. On the next sniff, this thing absolutely took off. Such an interesting array of aromas – blackberry, chocolate, sage and toffee predominately. In the mouth, those aromas came to life on an acid wave riding all the way through a long, lingering and lush finish. The Dubrul Cab is rich and silky, but not overbearing or chewy. Like the Rosa Mystica, it’s a little lighter than you would expect, but still packs a ton of flavor and balance.

What you should do: Buy it…with my usual expensive bottle caveat. This bottle is $72 at the winery and for a Washington wine, that’s still a high premium. Sure, there are plenty of $100+ bottles of wine coming out of Washington, but there are also far more exquisite $40 bottles of Washington wine than in, say, Napa. If you're a collector or can't stand drinking a bottle under $50, you won't be sorry, especially if you put it away for a couple years...you can thank me then.

My rating: 91 (WS gave it a 92)

WS 92

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Family Winemakers of California Tasting

Date: Thu, Aug 13, 2009 Wine Tasting

If you live in San Francisco or the Bay Area, you should definitely attend the 19th annual Family Winemakers of California Tasting next Sunday, August 23rd.

If you remember, I attended the San Francisco Chronicle Wine Competition back in February and, as always, had an incredible time. Tons of people and endless rows of amazing wines from around the country. The Family Winemakers of California tasting is a similar event, with countless amazing wines and throngs of happy wine tasters. But, the key difference with this event is that it focuses only on California wines and largely those California wines that most of us haven't heard of.

So, make the time, buy your ticket and go. It is worth far more than what they're charging.

For more information, I've printed the press release below:


Popular Tasting Showcases Small, Undiscovered Wineries at Fort Mason

SAN FRANCISCO (August 13, 2009) – One of the largest and most comprehensive tastings of California wine in the world, the annual Family Winemakers of California Tasting in San Francisco, has emerged as the premier opportunity for consumers to experience the world of California wine under one roof. The 19th annual Family Winemakers of California Tasting will be held Sunday, August 23, 2009, at Fort Mason in San Francisco. This popular event features close to 400 family-owned wineries from California’s top wine regions and showcases some of California’s finest wines, many of them from small, boutique wineries.

This comprehensive tasting gives consumers first-hand access to new wineries, wines and grape varieties they may never have heard of, and the winemakers and winery owners themselves. From undiscovered gems to old favorites and California wine classics, the Family Winemakers Tasting is a rare opportunity to try California’s newest and best wines. Most wineries in attendance are high-end, small production (under 5,000 cases per year) wineries from a variety of regions around California, including Napa, Sonoma, Sierra Foothills, Paso Robles, Mendocino and more. And each year the event attracts more than 50 “new” wineries that have not previously attended. Wisconsin cheeses and Marcel & Henri Pate are served at the event to complement the wines.

The 19th Annual Family Winemakers of California Tasting will be held at the Festival Pavilion at Fort Mason Center in San Francisco. Tickets are $50 per person in advance, $45 per person if ordered in groups of 10 or more, and $60 per person at the door. Tickets can be online at www.familywinemakers.org or by calling 877-772-5425.

Family Winemakers of California was founded in 1991 to give voice and presence to small, family wineries in California. The annual tasting started as an event for retail and restaurant wine buyers. In 1997 a consumer tasting was added to the event, and it quickly became popular with consumers looking to discover new wines. Additional information is available at www.familywinemakers.org.

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Owen Roe Winery Part 2

Date: Wed, Aug 12, 2009 Wine Tasting

On to part 2 of my Owen Roe series (Owen Roe Winery Part 1) and a truly spectacular wine in this round of 2. But, before I get to that wine, wanted to touch on another interesting element of Owen Roe winery.

There are so many great Northwest wineries and winemakers. In Oregon, a few that stand out to me are Devitt, Domaine Drouhin, Ken Wright, Williamette Valley Vineyards. And, up north in Washington, some of my favorites are Mark Ryan, Buty, Dunham Cellars, Long Shadows, Cayuse, K Vintners and on and on. It's truly extraordinary the number of great wines coming out of the Northwest and no one knows this better than Owen Roe winery.

Their positioning as "Wine from Oregon & Washington" seems pretty straight forward, but to take on two huge states, with over 25 AVA's between them and a host of great wines and winemakers is a daunting task. This isn't necessarily a new phenomenon, with the likes of Andrew Rich and Sineann also making wines with grapes from both states, but what makes it even more interesting is that these three wineries have 37 current releases among them. 37! I've been to at least 1/2 a dozen wineries this last year that only have one and these guys are offering up almost 40 different wines. Which is part of the reason why I was so intrigued by Owen Roe to begin with. I haven't tasted any Andrew Rich or Sineann, but the simple fact that Owen Roe has such a vast line-up of wines (14 current releases on its own) is what originally compelled me to look into the subject further.

From there, it's the quality of the wine that caught my attention. If Owen Roe was putting out the Northwest's Two Buck Chuck, I'd probably write one post and move on or completely ignore them. But, Owen Roe truly recognizes the power of a Northwest grape and, in most cases, are pulling all the best natural characteristics out of the grapes and the land. Even though the Northwest has received high acclaim around the wine world, it's still an up & coming region and it’s important (at least to me) that people get a realistic sense of wine coming out of there. A truly extraordinary place, producing truly extraordinary wines.

Which brings me to the two wines I'm focusing on for today – the 2007 Owen Roe Pinot Noir Santa maria Valley Solomon Hills Vineyard and the 2007 Owen Roe Syrah Yakima Valley "Lady Rosa".

2007 Owen Roe Pinot Noir Santa Maria Valley Solomon Hills Vineyard
If you read my first post on Owen Roe (Owen Roe Winery Part 1) you'll know that I wasn't a big fan of the Pinot Noir in that round - the Eola-Amity Hills. Just couldn't seem to shake the fact that it didn't taste like a Pinot Noir to me. Still a decent wine, but not at all what I expected and certainly not a contender in its weight class.

But, the Santa Maria Valley Solomon Hills is a different story. On the nose came blackberry, cinnamon and rich earth, with an interesting blend of raspberry, strawberry and blackcurrant in the mouth. Much fruitier in the mouth than on the nose and a bit unbalanced, but I appreciated the fact that it tasted like a Pinot Noir. Bar too low on this one, given my experience with the Eola-Amity Hills? Maybe. But, then again, I am focusing on one winery for this series, so it's only fair that I judge the wines against each other.

What you should do: Wait on this one, until I finish. At about $42, it drinks below its price for now, especially considering some of my favorite Pinot Noirs go for around $50 (Domaine Drouhin, Sea Smoke, Kosta Browne...to name a few). This one may be fighting as a middleweight in the heavyweight category - not that far off, but would almost certainly get pummeled in the ring.

my rating: 87

2007 Owen Roe Syrah Yakima Valley "Lady Rosa"
My wife and I are expecting our first child in December and we decided to not find out the sex of the baby. And, we're not one of those couples in which one wants to know and the other does not. We are 100% committed to not knowing, under the auspice that there are only so many truly beautiful surprises left in this world anymore.

Uh oh, is he really going to compare the birth of his first child to a bottle of wine? Well, not really. Nothing will compare, that's for sure. But, it's noteworthy that after you taste so many wines, there are also very few surprises. My first surprise in the Owen Roe tasting was a Pinot Noir that tasted like anything but that (aka an unpleasant surprise). My second is the Lady Rosa Syrah that absolutely knocked my socks off (aka a pleasant surprise).

This wine is beautiful. A huge nose...and I mean huge. To extend the boxing metaphor, a heavyweight who came to win and even intimidates some of the super heavyweights along the way. Blueberry, eucalyptus, play-doh and cigar box (not a lit cigar, more like running a cigar under your nose before lighting it). A weird combo on paper, but it really was dynamic, aromatic and ever-changing. Then, on the mouth, I tasted one of the richest, creamiest wines I've had in a long time. Again, some blueberry, with dark berries and fresh earth, and a phenomenal caramel / butterscotch finish that I can still taste in the back of my throat, like a Werthers Original hard candy, but a less sweet-version. Overall, an incredibly lush and silky Syrah, with very fine tannins, from a state that is currently blowing me away with their Syrah (if you don't believe me, get your hands on a Cayuse Cailloux Vineyard or Bionic Frog - unbelievable...come to think of it, if you do get ahold of them, give me a ring, I'll be right over).

What you should do: BUY IT by the case if you can afford it. $45 a bottle and still selling at that price, even after a 94 rating from Wine Spectator. This is a beautiful wine. Be selective about who you share it with - if you think they won't appreciate it, then pull out a good sub-$20 bottle of wine for them. Save the Lady Rosa for yourself or for a friend that's bringing over an equally great bottle of wine.

My rating: 92

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Screaming Eagle, Heidi Barrett and Chardonnay?

Date: Mon, Aug 10, 2009 Wine Tasting

My first introduction to Fantesca Estate turned out to be a great one, with the 2007 Fantesca Estate Chardonnay, Russian River Valley. Not a typical California Chardonnay, with a little less oak and butter than I expected, this offering is much more along the lines of a French white wine - very well balanced, crisp and light, more earthy than oakey, with a consistent and prevalent acid structure. Also, more citrus than I expected from a California Chardonnay, which, on the warm summer night we tasted it, definitely hit the spot.

From the winery's website:
The goal was to make a wine that confidently places the fruit at center stage while complementing it with nuanced winemaking skill which adds depth, complexity and balance. The three separate vineyard lots were thoughtfully paired to individual oak and fermentation protocols to weave into a seamless blend.

But, that's not the real story behind this wine. Sure it's a good wine and probably something I'll buy again, but it's the association with Heidi Barrett (yes, that Heidi Barrett of Screaming Eagle fame) that gives this wine a more well-rounded story. She is not the winemaker for this Chardonnay and didn't shepherd the wine from vineyard to bottle, but she did oversee the barrel aging and final blending processes. And my guess is that it's that much better for having her involved.

It's like hiring a world-renown music producer to join you halfway through your first CD to mix your final tracks, but not produce the CD from start to finish, which is exactly what I did with my old, and last, band. Sure, we ended up with a great CD that I still listen to now and again, but we never got as far as some of his other bands (like the two he moved on to immediately after working with us, who, between them sold over 50 million records).

is my old band to Fantesca as our master mixer is to Heidi Barrett?
In the end the product is still great, but it could have been just that much better had the key person been involved from the beginning. Oh, never mind, I digress...and that conversation is probably only interesting over a nice bottle of wine with old bandmates.

In any case, still a very nice wine from a great winemaker.

What you should do: Buy it. It's not a cheap Chardonnay at $45 and, like everything associated with Heidi, it's not easy to find, but, if you can find a bottle pick one up. I do think it's worth $45, but it's worth even more if you're able to pull it out at dinner with some wine snobs and tell them the story behind the wine (on second thought, maybe you should just tell them you have it and then enjoy it on your own).

My rating: 90

If you want to know more about Heidi Barrett, Gary Vaynerchuk just this last week posted two new videos on Wine Library TV with her as his special guest.

Wine Maker and Legend Heidi Barrett Visits Wine Library TV - Part 1
Wine Maker and Legend Heidi Barrett Visits Wine Library TV - Part 2

On a side note, you can find our CD (you know - the one mixed by that guy that went on to produce way more successful bands) in bargain bins at carefully selected, high-end, premium music stores around the country. Cheap, CHEAP!

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Boony Doon Vineyard: 7 Wonders of the Dooniverse

Date: Sat, Aug 8, 2009 Wine Tasting

Last night, my wife and I spent the evening with Randall Grahm and crew over at Boony Doon in Santa Cruz for their winemaker dinner prior to today's "Day of the Doon VII - 7 Wonders of the Dooniverse" (their annual club member food, wine & fun love fest," according to their Facebook page).

I'll be writing more about the dinner, Bonny Doon and Randall Grahm soon, but, for now, and in prep for today's events at the winery, am posting my Twitter tasting notes from the dinner. Overall, an amazing assortment of wine, incredibly well-paired with the food...and a host and crew that was second to none. Thanks for your hospitality, Bonny Doon - have a great time today (wish I could be there).

Twitter tasting notes:

  • 2008 ca' del solo muscat. think Sauvignon blanc with just a splash of sweet muscat. delicious and refreshing.
  • 2007 vin gris de cigare rose. shocked my wife by saying I'd buy this rose even though not a rose fan.
  • 2004 le cigare blanc. like lemon water with a touch of honey and soil. very delicate and well balanced.
  • 2000 le cigare volant. amazing nose - licorice, fresh dirt, musty (in the best of ways), tart raspberry fruit.
  • 2000 le cigare volant. perfectly paired with rich chicken and fig - acid cuts straight through the meal
  • 2004 ca' del solo nebbiolo. very pure version of nebbiolo, paired w/ veal cheeks & fried gnocchi. perfect pair.
  • 2001 old telegram old vine mourvedre. "oh, that's the stuff" heard next to me. couldn't agree more
  • 2001 old telegram old vine mourvedre. cherry, chocolate, anise, chalk, very little oak. beautiful wine.
  • 2004 muscat vin de glaciere. sweet dessert wine, dried apricots, raisins, pears. incredibly vibrant nose.
  • signing off. amazing dinner. incredible wines. off to enjoy dessert.

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The Onion on wine appreciation

Date: Fri, Aug 7, 2009 Wine Tasting

With the utmost respect, I offer up to you some true wine knowledge offered by one of my favorite publications, The Onion. It's from an article back in 2002, but, I think you will agree when you read it that the principles still apply.

Wine Appreciation Tips
Source: The Onion, August 21, 2002

Wine appreciation is a true art form. Here are some tips to help you become an aficionado.
  • Most wine experts frown upon serving a peignoir with white meat. This is primarily because a peignoir is a type of lingerie.
  • In Europe, wines are named according to the region from which they come. Among the most popular are wines from the Bordeaux region of France and the Night Train region of Italy.
  • When dining with friends at a restaurant, order the second-least expensive wine on the list. If on a date, order the fourth-least expensive.
  • If you are uncertain whether to select a merlot or beaujolais for a spring breast-of-lamb garden dinner, avoid making a decision until we come down to beat the living crap out of you.
  • Many liquor stores offer a "Try Before You Buy" program, whether they know it or not.
  • When sipping wine at a Catholic eucharist, swallow quickly, before the wine undergoes the miracle of transubstantiation and you get the unpleasant taste of a mouthful of human blood.
  • Distinctly fruity overtones are the mark of a good sommelier.
  • The quality of a wine is inversely proportional to the viciousness of the animal depicted on the label.
  • Aw, man, once in high school, my friends and I got totally ripped on this wine Eric's older brother bought for us. I don't remember the name, but it was all pineapple-flavored. That was the night we got kicked out of Arby's.
  • The proper glass is crucial to wine enjoyment. Before pouring wine, thoroughly rinse out the remnants of your cherry Icee.
  • When throwing a tasting party, never serve more than one category of wine. [This tip courtesy of "The Guide To Sucking Every Bit Of Joy And Spontaneity Out Of Living"]

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Owen Roe winery

Date: Thu, Aug 6, 2009 Wine Tasting

The first time I was introduced to Owen Roe wines I was struck by two things.

The first were the labels. Definitely some of the most interesting I'd ever seen, ranging from very small labels, displaying only the name of the wine, to labels with headstones and castles and detached hands and so on. This is clearly a winery that cares about its packaging. Not that that creates a great wine by any means, but I, like a lot of other folks (just admit it) are suckers for a cool label and Owen Roe knows that and capitalizes on it nicely.

From there, I picked up the bottle with the most minimal label (and I believe the lowest price, but can't remember) called Ex Umbris Syrah. Cool name, cool label, from a cool family of wines. I believe it was a 2004 and, well, that wine spoke to me. It’s a Syrah in the tradition of most good Northwestern Syrah - juicy fruit and spice, with just the right amount of earth, not anything like it's commercial cousin way down south, otherwise known as Shiraz and tending towards the “super-fruity”. Needless to say, the Ex Umbris has been a staple in my wine cellar ever since.

So, I naturally extended my affinity with Ex Umbris out to a bigger idea – I mean if I like the Ex Umbris this much, then maybe I should dive a lot deeper into their whole line. And that’s what this three-part post is all about – some more info on Owen Roe and a random sampling of their wines.

The two wines I’ll be starting with are the Ex Umbris and the Pinot Noir Eola – Amity Hills.

2007 Owen Roe Ex Umbris Syrah Columbia Valley
As I mentioned above, this is the Owen Roe that started it all for me. I still remember that first bottle and the impression it left. For the price (I think it was around $15), it was dense and rich and incredibly well balanced. The nose was full of life and every sip took me back to my Northwest roots. A little dramatic you say? Well, wine does that to people and attaching wines to good memories is what it's all about.

The 2007 is equally as good. The richness is still there, like I remember. The nose is aromatic, with dark berry fruit, chocolate, spice and smoke that transforms into blueberries, chocolate and coffee in the mouth. The finish was a little lighter than I remember and left me yearning for more, but overall this is still a very nice wine, particularly for the price of under $20.

What you should do: Buy it. It's a great introduction to Owen Roe wines, but is also a solid, stand-alone Northwest Syrah. It's an easy drinker and seems to me to be a wine that will appeal to most palettes - a good one to have on hand for entertaining family and friends.

My rating: 88

2007 Owen Roe Pinot Noir Eola - Amity Hills Williamette Valley
You gotta give Owen Roe credit for the having the moxie to put a headstone on this label. Sets the expectation high. But, in the end, it doesn't really live up to that kind of pressure.

This one was tricky for me. I'm a big fan of Pinot Noir, particularly Pinot from Williamette Valley, but this offering just felt off to me. Not off like it had gone bad, more like it didn’t really strike me as a Pinot Noir. It’s smokey, chocolaty, spicy with a good strong finish, but it never really landed as a Pinot Noir like I expected. There were moments when it came through, but it went back and forth between being a relatively light, fruity Pinot, to a blended red table wine, then to a mellow Meritage and on and on. Very odd. Never could get my arms around it. Overall, not a bad wine, but when I open a vineyard-designate Pinot Noir, I expect two things – the varietal it claims to be and something unique that represents the vineyard and the grapes from that vineyard. It’s still a bit weird to me, but I couldn’t really nail down either in this case.

What you should do: I’d skip this one. I’ve heard from a few others that the Owen Roe Pinot Noirs are hit or miss and this one definitely fits in the miss category for me. At about $42, it’s also priced way too high.

My rating: 83

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Michel Schlumberger Wines

Date: Sat, Aug 1, 2009 Wine Tasting

For last event on the last day of the Wine Bloggers Conference, I had the pleasure of going to Michel Schlumberger in Dry Creek. If you've never been to Dry Creek Valley and visited any of the wineries there, it's definitely worth going the next time you're in California wine country. The scenery is amazing and the wineries - home to Dry Creek Vineyards, Michel Schlumberger, Nalle, Quivira, Ridge, and many more - are making some of the best wines in California.

For today, I'll be talking about Michel Schlumberger (Twitter @M_Schlumberger).

I'll be honest, I had not heard about Michel Schlumberger before I went there for a vineyard walk, but it is now on my list of favorite places in California wine country. Seems I wasn't alone, as even Judd Wallenbrock, the President / GM felt the same way..."Judd Wallenbrock, a 29+ year veteran of the wine industry, arrived at Michel-Schlumberger dumbfounded by the sheer beauty of the Estate & stunned by the wine quality. “Why have I never heard of this place?” he asked, and set about his mission of establishing Michel-Schlumberger as the industry’s premier destination for those seeking a truly unique wine experience."

First off, Dry Creek Valley, for those of you who haven't been is absolutely stunning. Tucked away northwest of Healdsburg, the scenery is beyond words, particularly in the summer when the grape vines are lush with leaves and young grapes.

But, once you get to Michel Schlumberger, it takes Dry Creek Valley to another level. A beautiful California mission-style main building creates the landmark, as the lush vineyards move quickly up the hillside behind. The tasting room is spread throughout, both inside and outside, creating a very warm, in-touch-with-nature setting, one in which it's just as easy to take in the aroma of the wines as it is to feel the breeze coming in through the open doors.

Sadly, I had a bit of a different experience at Michel Schlumberger than my peers as I had to leave early and was unable to join them on the vineyard walk. My plan was to sort through some of my notes from the weekend and start writing my blog posts. But, our gracious host at Michel Schlumberger (Judd Wallenbrock) would have nothing of it. He was fine with me squatting on the property, but insisted that I have some wine while I wait. And, never one to be a bad guest, I, of course, politely obliged.

Michel Schlumberger is known for small lot Bordeaux varietals and, in my opinion, they are making some of the most unique wines in northern California.

Michel Schlumberger 2008 Pinot Blanc
What is it with me and white wines lately? Seems my favorite wine of the weekend was a white, - the Matthiasson Napa Valley White Wine - and here we are again, with another great white from Michel Schlumberger.

Before I tell you any more, I need to be fair and let you know that when I looked up Michel Schlumberger wines on Wine Spectator there wasn't one of their wines rating more than 87, dating all the way back to a 1994 Cabernet Sauvignon. And, the 2006 version of the Pinot Blanc only attained an 80 rating. So, it is with all due respect to the Wine Spectator and its tasting team that I say that's just plain hooey (this, of course, being a widely recognized and highly technical wine tasting term - don't feel bad if you haven't heard of it before). Clearly my palate is very different on this one, because this is the second best white I tasted all weekend.

It's clearly a French-style wine, not a sweet or oakey California white - one of the cleanest, most refreshing and simple white wines that has had the pleasure of meeting my palate...as the person pouring said "drinks like water, doesn't it?" That's partially true, but only in regards to the ease with which it goes down. But, there is some complexity here, as nuanced as it is. Good subtle fruit and touch of mineral and metal, almost a zinc-like quality, that does add some interesting qualities to the wine.

What you should do: BUY IT. No question in my mind that this wine has to be tried. It may not be to everyone's liking, especially those that prefer stronger, more buttery and oakey whites, but it's simple enough, with just enough complexity to keep it interesting. And, at $21 a bottle (at the winery), that's a price that's worth experimenting with.

My rating: 89 (will be interesting to see if WS rates the 2008 or not, but, hey, I just found another great white wine, so what do I care?)

Michel Schlumberger 2006 Le Fou Pinot Noir
Le Fou, translated into English, means "the insane one," which, of course, peaked my interest almost immediately. If someone has the guts to call their wine "the insane one," I'm more than willing to go along for the ride.

Don't think it necessarily lives up to the name, unless there is a back story that I don't know about, but, regardless, this is a great Pinot Noir. Very well balanced, both on the nose and in the mouth, with floral undertones and a sweet nectar taste. The acidity is spot on and, like the Pinot Blanc, this Pinot Noir brings with it a mineral, metallic feel, much like zinc, that I have yet to see in other wines in Napa. For me, this is what made the wines I tasted feel truly unique.

This is not an in-your-face, spicy, robust Pinot Noir. It is much more subtle than that, but is still rich and packed with good fruit, mineral and floral notes.

What you should do: BUY IT. I mean it. I'm going to pick up a few bottles to have on hand and they will sit proudly next to the Sea Smokes, Kosta Brownes and Paul Hobbs in my cellar (not the same type of Pinot, to be sure, but can definitely stand on its own as similar quality).

My rating: 90 (not rated by WS)

Have you tried Michel Schlumberger? Would love to hear what you think.

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Wine Bloggers Conference...the final word

Date: Wed, Jul 29, 2009 Wine Tasting

It seems I'm a bit late to the game on these notes, as pretty much everyone who attended the Wine Bloggers Conference has already posted their thoughts on the event. But, the positive is that it allows me to not only consolidate some great posts from others (you'll find these at the end of this post), it also lets me live up to the description of my blog - ...because what the world needs is another opinion about the Wine Bloggers Conference.

Man, I can find a rationale for pretty much anything.

Observations from the WBC09 (careful, I will ramble in spots...think "Dear diary..."):
  • There is something very real to what's going on in the blogger world. Duh, you say, seems obvious. But, really think about it. All 300 of us were in Napa for the weekend. Some of us drove, some of us flew from all over the world. At the same time, 1,500 mommy bloggers descended on Chicago. That's about 1,800 people in one weekend voluntary spending their time and money to talk about blogging and connect with fellow bloggers. And, if you consider that a very small percentage of those people are able to make a living at it and the rest of us are just plain passionate about what we do, that makes the phenomenon even more remarkable. If anyone thinks blogging is a fad, that should let you know that we're not going anywhere.
  • We felt like a real community. Sure, we all twitter and facebook and blog and ning and delicious and technorati and digg and on and on, but when we all get in a room together and emerge as living, breathing human beings behind social marketing monikers and web images, it's pretty cool. In the end, there's a bit of nerd in us all, both wine nerd and technology nerd, and we had the chance to let it all hang out and be both people. For once, I didn't feel bad about having my head buried in my iPhone at dinner and no one cared that I had to ask them what they just said (or, better yet, I could say things like "could you just twitter me with that? I'll get to it much quicker that way."). And, I can guarantee we had more wine tastings than they did at that other blogging conference in Chicago.
  • The Napa wine community embraced us far more than I ever anticipated, with interesting panels, lunches on the lawn, vineyard walks, one-on-one conversations, interviews, tastings, tours, etc. It really was incredible. Napa gets a lot of heat for becoming what many refer to as the "Disneyland of wine," but the people we met with and the time and interest they took in us really felt to me more like what I imagine an older, smaller, not-yet-world-stage Napa to be like. For me, that's the best kind of wine country. Brought me back a bit to what I truly do love about the California wine country - great wine, beautiful scenery and a deep connection to those who have dedicated their lives to making it all come to life. Thank you Napa!
  • We never trended on Twitter, which to be perfectly honest, was surprising to me. I've never seen so many people heads down in their iPhones and laptops, letting the world know real time what they thought about the event, the content, the wines we tasted, etc. Could it be that we were only talking to ourselves and those few who felt unfortunate that they didn't attend? Oh, please say it isn't so.
  • On the bus rides back and forth and in conference rooms and at the after hours gatherings, I was able to talk to and share ideas with so many great folks (some of whom I have listed in Twitter wine folks to follow - Part II). For those of you who don't know us as a group, I was stunned by the wealth of knowledge floating through the venues. As serious as the winemakers are about their wine, this crew brings the same passion, knowledge and intensity to their craft. As bloggers, we get mired in discussions about ethics and whether or not we're actually providing useful and credible information to folks. But, I can tell you, when you're in the room with 250+ people focused on their passion and a technology that fuels that passion, you can't help but feel the power of it all. Truly incredible.
  • Next year is in Walla Walla, Washington. Having lived in the Northwest for 20 years, with great in-laws living 45 minutes from Walla Walla, well, let's just say I'm already registered for WBC10. And, it was a great idea for the organizers of the conference to put out tastings of Walla Walla wines as we wrapped up WBC09. Should be a fun and truly unique experience, particularly if you've never been to Walla Walla. You registered yet?
Those are my rambling notes for now and, as promised, below are some other posts on the Wine Bloggers Conference. Thanks to all of you who posted such great pieces, you took the pressure off writing about everything in my head.

Wild Walla Walla Wine Woman

20 Dollar Wine Blog

Bottoms Up

The Cork Board

Think Wine Marketing

Stark Silver Creek

Reign of Terroir

If you have or have found other interesting WBC09 stories, let me know.

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Wine Bloggers Conference open thank you

Date: Wed, Jul 29, 2009 Wine Tasting

In the world of blogging and social media, does it still make sense to send thank you cards, emails, IM's or Twitters? Sure. But, why not thank everyone at once for an amazing weekend in Napa?

Sincere thanks to all of the following sponsors for giving us an unbelievable weekend - truly amazing and something I won't forget for a very long time.


Open Wine Consortium

Zephyr Wine Adventures

Premier Sponsors

Sonoma Vintners

Sonoma Winegrape Commission

Sonoma Tourism

Napa Valley Vintners

Sonoma Valley Vintners & Growers

Bouchaine Vineyards


Russian River Valley Winegrowers

Winegrowers of Dry Creek Valley


WineFuture Conference

Media Sponsors

Wine Biz Radio

Wine Business Monthly


Mutineer Magazine

Wines & Vines

Event Sponsors

Wark Communications

Washington Wine Commission

Rodney Strong Vineyards

Bonny Doon Vineyard


Sherry Council of America

True Fabrications




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Twitter wine folks to follow - part II

Date: Tue, Jul 28, 2009 Wine Tasting

This past weekend in Napa, 250+ of us attended the Wine Bloggers Conference in Napa. But, it could have just as easily been called the Wine Twitterers Conference as we all nerded out on our iPhones and other handhelds at meals, at tastings, on the bus, in the vineyards...honestly, I think it's the only time in the last year that I haven't felt bad for picking up my iPhone at dinner or anywhere else where it wasn't, well, just me.

Some may call Twitter a fad, a business model that eventually morphs into something else, a crazy kids thing or a completely baffling activity, but when you get a group of dedicated and passionate people collectively focusing on their object of desire, the real and virtual world start to meld into one pretty quickly. A truly unique and quirky experience.

And, so you can experience some
of the interesting folks on Twitter that were with me in Napa, here is the second in my installment of Twitter wine folks to follow (you can find Part I here - Good wine people to follow on Twitter). If you're on Twitter and you enjoy wine, wine blogs, tasting notes, whatever, these are great people to pay attention to.






















Probably forgot someone, but there can always be another list...plenty of us out there.

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Napa and St. Supery grapes on their way...

Date: Mon, Jul 27, 2009 Wine Tasting

As we get closer and closer to harvest, the grapes are really starting to take shape. This iPhone photo is from St. Supery (Twitter: @stsupery) in Napa Valley, taken during the Wine Bloggers Conference this past weekend.

Can't wait to taste them.

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