For regular readers and followers it’s likely not a surprise when I profess: while I am a fan of many wines and sample, review and buy everything from Chardonnay to Zin, the last few years Rhone varietals have been my deepest passion – from reading, reviewing and even small lot wine making. (Don’t be jealous Pinot, you never forget your first girl.)
It’s no surprise then I am a big supporter of two great Rhone organizations; Hospice du Rhone, a non profit that holds an amazing event each April in Paso Robles with Rhone producers both domestic and international, and the Rhone Rangers, America’s leading non-profit, educational organization dedicated to promoting American Rhone varietal wines.
In December I met with key members of the Rhone Rangers marketing committee and Executive Director Cheryl Quist over lunch in San Francisco to discuss joining the Rhone Rangers marketing committee, via an introduction by Meg Houston Maker, DTC & Social Media maven for Bonny Doon Vineyards. Stuart Montgomery, Board of Directors member, and Chair of the marketing committee was interested in some additional expertise for the team, and Meg had passed on my name.
I was flattered, and very interested, convinced my passion and background would be beneficial to the Rhone Ranger cause. While I confuse some with my true role (and duration) in the wine world, I am actually a relatively new presence, moving to wine country, somewhat ironically, at the same time as Hardy Wallace with his Murphy Goode gig, and shortly after Rick Bakas and St. Supery.
My ‘Debut’ Into the Wine Industry
A passionate wine consumer for two decades, and a person in love with Sonoma County for a decade, habituating other parts of the Bay area (and worked for a Petaluma startup), I finally came to my senses and moved to North Sonoma in June 2009, and in a few months, planted my first small hobby vineyard, launched the blog (after much urging by friends), and plunged headfirst into industry networking. I even did my first harvest work. It was the busiest sabbatical one could imagine and I loved every second.
I didn’t have a large winery backing me. (Although I am very grateful for the early reciprocal support the Wine Road gave me.)Any awareness of my ‘brand’ was going to have to be achieved via grass roots and zero budget. I was in fact relatively new to Facebook, and brand new to Twitter, something people may find odd, given how industry people sometimes as a ‘social media guru’. (There are no gurus by the way, its all new ground.)
My 20 years of experience in sales and marketing in the tech sector, my experience with numerous startups and limited resources but high visibility requirements, were excellent background for using the sound principles of traditional marketing integrated with the new tools of Social Media.
There were ebbs and flows in my writing and wine work; in September 2009 my sabbatical ended abruptly with a new position as head of Sales for software company that was growing fast and very demanding. I was living in two places, and back to heavy travel. (I am a Two Million Miler on American.) But wine, and sharing knowledge of it with others, is my passion, to my core. You make time.
Lacking time and sleep - for awhile the blog focused more on event coverage; I was initially against wine reviews, and this was faster material to cover; but as I noticed hits on my Cellartracker tasting notes were quite high, I morphed the focus to both. Still, I am determined to not just write 5 lines and call that a review; for those that read my wine reviews, they usually take several hours, and try to incorporate a bit of a story, education or both.
I also work closely with a number of West Coast AVA marketing organizations, assisting with marketing, event awareness and promotion. Pro bono – I might add. Those right column ads you see, for the record, are usually for free, even when offered to pay. The blog runs in red ink; it’s about love, not money.
Rhone With Me
Flash forward again to January 2011 and the Rhone Rangers. A recent blog by President Jason Haas of Tablas Creek highlighted some of the groups challenges and progress over recent years. It was my personal observation, this noble group deserved more buzz from industry and consumers then it was getting, especially watching events like ZAP, focused on a single varietal.
I was confident I could add value. I have worked with a PR firm for the last year helping several brands successfully enhance their social media presence. Additionally I had the lessons learned ‘eating my own dog food’ and embracing Social Media to promote my own brand.
Simple Hedonisms had grown to over 6k monthly readers and 200,000 hits a month. My recent Robert Parker article saw traffic of 1,000 readers and 26k hits in 24 hours, including famed California wine writer Charles Olken, who made my day when he said he was a fan. (Despite a slight admonishment.) Twitter fans have grown to over 3100, Facebook page over 2200.
Is it Vinography – no. But those numbers are very solid and exceed others better known. I haven’t focused enough on Google search engine optimization so that I ‘rank’ higher, but I am blessed with a high number of regular readers, given the duration, and I thank all of you.
Back to the Rhone Rangers – I gathered these numbers as support for my belief I could add value. There are lots of passionate Rhoners around; I wanted to share I was confident my passion combined with experience, would be beneficial. The team was very welcoming and supportive.
I took advantage over the holidays to head to Paso Robles and meet with Jason Haas, President, whom I have admired he and his father greatly for his efforts to the Rhone community, and then to El Dorado to meet with new 2011 President Josh Bendick of Holly Hills (Whose blends are fabulous by the way, bought a case, despite my 2011 vow to buy less wine.)
It wasn’t exactly the ideal time; my paying job kicked off the New Year at Mach 3; I just closed and moved into a new 1.5 acre property in the Russian River Valley that’s overwhelming project, with a small farm and future vineyard, and an endless list of things that need to be done; I help a very small set of clients with consulting; Several scheduled industry lectures and presentations were on my calendar; I am fortunate enough to be asked to attend and cover many events and tastings, another passion of mine. If a day was 36 hours, it didn’t seem enough.
You find time to do what you are passionate about, and the 2011 Rhone Rangers San Francisco Tasting. their biggest event of the year, looming on my radar the end of March. Despite the busy schedule, with the support of many, I launched Rhone Rangers onto Twitter, with a goal to build a following prior to the tasting, so that information, education, and updates would be heard.
In 30 days it went from zero to 500 followers – respectable for a part time, pro bono effort. My thanks to the many that helped support the viral nature of this growth. As the event looms closer more activity across a variety of platforms will appear, the support of the local blogger community is being enlisted, and as many avenues as we can to reach the 7 million people in the Bay area as we can about this event, and Fundraiser.
Priority 1 is assisting the San Francisco Grand Tasting to even greater heights. This is a great event and incredible value with its seminars, tasting, and Winemakers dinner. Education and awareness of the Rhone varietals will always remain a core focus.
The Rhone Rangers also have regional chapters. Paso Robles has a very successful local chapter, whose event I am attending this Sunday. El Dorado appears about to start a chapter. The North Coast very briefly had one but it folded, it’s not an insignificant effort. I have been contemplating for some time the idea of Bay area Rhone event; perhaps in the second half of 2011 I will rally supporters for this cause. In Jason Haas’ blog referenced previously, he states he believes strongly in the local Chapter model, and as passionate supporter of the Sonoma/North Coast as I am, I’d like to do what I can to realize this goal for our communities.
It’s been a fair amount of time and effort, but rewarding and an honor to work with so many passionate, talented people and Captains of Industry, who have invested blood, sweat and tears in domestic Rhone programs.
I also hope to work closely with the many of the local Sonoma wineries that are not, or were once, members of the Rhone Rangers, to (re) join the ranks. Rhone varietals are gaining in popularity as articles on the popularity of Grenache, Mourvedre, Grenache Blanc, and more show. Consumers are increasingly eager to try new things. Our staples of Cabernet, Pinot, Chardonnay etc will of course remain, but there is room, and the opportunity for differentiation and increased wine sales via diversification.
Your comments, thoughts, opinions, and suggestions are welcome here on the blog or directly via email to me.
Cheers and thanks for reading Simple Hedonisms Wine Blog ! See some of you in Paso Robles this weekend!