Archive for the ‘Wine Marketing’ Category

Tonight on Twitter: A Rhone Ranger #RRLA Tasting & Chat with Icon Randall Grahm, Other Wineries.

This Sunday in LA, 40 Rhone Ranger wineries assemble in

LA to help the enlightment and evolution of local palates.

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As they did for the San Francisco #RRSF, the Rhone Rangers (@RhoneRangers) will host a live Rhone tasting on Twitter from 530-630 pm.

Simply follow hashtag #RRLA, the same hashtag that will be used at the event.

If you have to Google who Randall Grahm is your Rhone education is just beginning. Read about Randall Grahm , the original Rhone Ranger. Yours truly (@SonomaWilliam) will take part of course, never one to miss a Rhone event.


Bring a glass of a domestic Rhone, red, white or Rosé, your favorite Twitter client loaded with hashtag #RRLA, or click your browser here.

Open your Rhone bottle, share what you like, and interact with Rhone Rangers wineries, ask questions about all things Rhone!

See you on the Twitter airwaves, Thursday night as well as Sunday, where I’ll ‘broadcast live’ from the event. Cheers and Rhone on!


Related Articles:


Sunday June 3 – Ride to SoCal With The Rhone Rangers at LA Pouring. (Also, Discount Code,Ticket contest & Live Twitter Tasting Thursday.)

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Winery of the Month: Highlights of Bonny Doon Vineyard’s ‘Day of the Doon’ at San Juan Bautista ‘Popelouchum’ Vineyard


Tuesday Mar 20th – Join The Rhone Rangers and “SonomaWilliam’ for a Live Rhone Twitter Tasting 530-700 pm


March 24-25th in SF: “A Weekend Celebration of American Rhônes” or “Palate Enlightenment”. Read, Learn, Share and Win Grand Tasting Tickets

5 Responses to “Sunday June 3 – Ride to SoCal With The Rhone Rangers at LA Pouring. (Also, Discount Code,Ticket contest & Live Twitter Tasting Thursday.)”

Followup to "A New Beginning & Old World Renaissance? Robert Parker to Cease Reviewing California Wine" – A Great Video I Must Share

Seven months ago, at the crack of dawn, catching an early article on Vinography, I wrote “A New Beginning & Old World Renaissance? Robert Parker to Cease Reviewing California Wine.”

This has remained one of my most widely read and shared articles, second only to ‘Shipping Included’ – the Future of Direct to Consumer? An interview with Bonny Doon Vineyard.

I don’t really like the wine sensationalism angle that many popular bloggers, and even some writers use. Yes it garnishes  huge amounts of comments from other bloggers and writers, but that is not my intended audience, as honored as I am when they read Simple Hedonisms.

I wrote this article out of passion. I feel so strongly about a movement BACK to wines of balance, elegance, and modest alcohol that after several years of pontification I have put my money (all of it) where my mouth is and started a new micro label (<300 cases) called Two Shepherds. Rhone varieties (of course) Marsanne, Roussanne, Viognier and Grenache Blanc for white blends; Syrah, Grenache, Mourvedre, for reds. All under 14% alcohol, and all fermented or aged in neutral oak. Yes, even the Syrah.  Final permits are being completed, and wines should for sale shortly. Or I will drink them all myself – my friends and I all seem to enjoy them!

Anyway, this article was one of passion and belief, not sensationalism, and it was well received by the industry.  I was honored that well known writer Charles Olken, read and mentioned me in a post, even if he said I was being dramatic.

Early analysis shows its unclear how much this change to Antonio

Galloni will cause, and one must be realistic, but we ARE seeing changes, and there is buzz. Consultants who made a living ‘Parkerizing’ great wines may hopefully be researching consulting on wines of balance instead.

There is a very funny video, with a kernel of truth at its core. Its tongue in cheek, but it carries a message.  My apologies if anyone finds the backdrop offensive.

Enjoy & cheers!


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4th of July Weekend Marks Two Year Anniversary for 'Sonoma William' – and Brings More Changes, Evolutions &amp;amp; Decisions

It's snuck up on me again, perhaps because (as many echo to me) it is sometimes hard to imagine I have only been here two years. In many ways I feel like was always here.

Two Years Ago – The Long Overdue Journey Begins

I knew in my heart and soul, over 12 years ago this is where I would live: The result of  working for a Petaluma startup and discovering Sonoma County's Russian River Valley. However being (at that time) in my early 30s's,  and single, I was in denial a rural, agrarian county was the place for me, and instead lived in San Francisco and Marin, but sojourning regularly into Sonoma for work and play. Russian River Valley (I fell in love with Pinot, my 'first girl') and often Dry Creek Valley, became monthly visits.

Flash forward to 2009; after leaving the Bay area and brief stints in Seattle, Denver, and Baja Mexico, I returned to California in 2007 and was working in Silicon Valley.

A rapid series of life & work  events landed me here in North Sonoma, newly single, on paid 6 months off, really not knowing anyone, and keen to dive, at least partially,  into the wine industry. After much urging by friends, I also decided it was time to start a wine website and blog on it. I was fairly new to Facebook, not even on Twitter, but realized, with my background in marketing & technology, that these Social Media tools really could provide some social integration and networking, as well as establishing the brand of 'Sonoma William.' Today the blog Facebook page has 2400 followers, and Twitter, 4000.

Which incidentally I get push back on occasion as a wine writer. I write, travel, and review all wines and AVAs. Sonoma County is where  I live and love, not my wine focus, per se. Although she holds a special place in my heart, and where above all other places, I choose to live.

I wasn't alone – we had other new entities like Hardy Wallace and Rick Bakas, all of us only a brief span apart. move into wine country. The differentiator for myself being I was completely independent and self funded. (Not that I wouldn't want a large or progressive thinking, funded, winery at my back!)

It wasn't long before I heard regularly – 'you are everywhere!'

Diving In

Things coalesced: I finished the blog site,  self designed and hosted;  I was fortunate enough to have good  local Industry backing, especially of the North Sonoma Wine Road, and then it spread to organizations like Hospice du Rhone,  and momentum just grew. More of my background and first adventures can be found in my post: ‘Sonoma William’ Joins Forces With the Rhone Rangers; Some History & New Directions. I jumped into 2009 harvest. I covered events and just waded in head first.

Alas, my 6 month 'sabbatical' ended prematurely and I had to stop mid harvest and begin the struggle of trying to balance time between two very distinct worlds.

Now, two years later much has evolved, personally and professionally, but one thing  is certain – being involved in the wine industry was my calling – but on what path?

More Changes and Several Paths To Choose From Ahead

  • New Life Changes

Two years later, a touch ironically, I am amidst another series of life changes.

Until last month, I have been head of sales for a small, VC funded,  software company, which by its nature brings volatility, especially when you are subject to the whims of Venture Capitalists, and in turbulent times. Despite the fact I helped the company grow and 2011 was on target to meet or exceed another 25+ percent growth year, a never ending series of  changes and  re-orgs, my role was eliminated. Without the big corporate severance package this time.

It was clear this was an opportunity to assess and decide – is this the time to jump full time into the wine industry? I have had offers before (and now) – but the issue has always been a huge decrease in income, at a time with a new farm, small vineyard, and other projects where capital is needed…can I afford to? We shall see, for right now I am pursuing other avenues and interests, hopefully through Harvest 2011.

Additionally, a bit  unexpected, I am in a relationship with someone, also in (and new to)  the wine industry. After many years of focusing on everything but my own life, I am investing substantial hours per week in building and growing this relationship, and spending time with a person who completes my life in many ways. My 'usual' line of work involves heavy travel 2-3 days a week, every week, and has always made relationships a challenge, so I am welcoming the quality time getting to know a dear person I both greatly respect and whom I think the world of.  Life is short, time is precious. It's time to live, love and practice what I preach about enjoying life's primary pleasures.

  • Wine Marketing Consulting

Over the last year, I had been doing some side consulting for marketing and social media integration to several clients, mostly in conjunction with wine Public Relations veteran Marie Gewirtz of MGPR, and occasionally independently. Given recent changes, I am now open to new clients, and have recently closed several with more request

opens for proposals. These can range from a Social Media only focus, helping launch Facebook, Twitter, building a following, integrating key applications like Cruvee and Google Analytics for measurement, training, and handing over the keys to the castle over some months, to campaign and event consulting, or a full blown soup to nuts Marketing , Public Relations, and Social Media campaign combining the resources and and experience of MGPR, and others who work with us.

I need to build an 'accolades' page, as we have already accomplished some great things, and I have also launched several projects including the new Santa Rosa Wine Trail. I also teach seminars for Wine Organizations, teach at Sonoma State University, guest lecture at Santa Rosa Junior college, and have presented at winery's national meetings. Work has never been this much fun, or fulfilling, until now.

  • Starting My Own Wine Label

In the background I have been working to create my own small brand, focusing on Rhone blends, producing 7 barrels of Rhone varietals (175 cases) and am going through all the fun paperwork. (Especially daunting has been the name creation.) I have had help and coaching from many people, ranging from Rhone icon Randall Grahm of Bonny Doon (whom I feel guilty to even contact) to the guidance of local winemakers Darek Trowbridge (and Steven Washuta) (Old World Winery), Alan Baker (Cartograph), Dylan & Tobe Sheldon (Sheldon Wines) & Kevin Hamel, veteran Sonoma wine maker and consultant. Busy with their own small artisan wine brands (all personal favorites) , these people have been kind enough to mentor me.

The ultimate size of this label? Remains to be seen… I think this is my long term future…but is that five years out? Ten? It's still TBD as I let it happen somewhat organically. Joining with a life partner, investment partner who is also a passionate wine aficionado could accelerate this. My experience with Venture Capitalists makes me reluctant to  create a business plan and raise outside investors who aren't hands on involved, and like minded.

  • Wine Writing, Press Tours, and Wine Judging

At the same time, my following and reputation as a wine writer seems to have really accelerated. Readership is high, for a niche wine website. Requests for media coverage and event press passes flow in. I am having to decline some wine samples, based on backlog, capacity,  and really wish I again had active wine writers again for events and reviews.

A new twist  has emerged that I am excited about – wine judging. In early August I will be a judge in the Mendocino County Wine Competition. In September I am judging the Sonoma County Harvest Fair, our biggest competition. And in November I am judging in a brand new competition called the Garagiste Festival.

Additional requests for press and media tours continue. I recently have been spending time exploring Mendocino County with a press tour and Paul Dolan biodynamic writers camp. In July I am one of six writers selected on a all expense paid week media tour in Spain, sponsored by Freixnet, and visiting properties and wineries

of the 22 brands, including Ribera and Rioja. Wine writing doesn't pay, but it has its perks!

  • Stepping into the Rhone Rangers Board of Directors, and Starting the North Coast Chapter

Life has been so busy, I haven't even had time to craft a press release about our record Rhone Rangers San Francisco Grand event, nor my appointment to the Board of Directors last month.

Additionally, I am also spearheading the new North Coast Rhone Rangers chapter, in the footsteps of the successful Paso Robles chapter. Our initial goal is a map of Rhone producers with an electronic map for Sonoma, Napa, Mendocino, and Lake Counties. More on this in a separate article, but if you are a winery that fits this or can recommend one, please contact me ASAP. I love working with wineries, but if you have ever done any cross winery work, you know its cat herding at its finest!

Where Does It All Lead?

The above items are by far a complete list; add in the monthly social events  host for 100+ people, the live tastings I do, and much more, life is very full! But where does this lead? I often get asked where is my 'master plan'?

Atypical for me, I don't have one. I see multiple possible paths in front of me, and I am letting them play out, somewhat organically, or naturally. Water follows its own path, and in this case, I think my life will as well.

I can't wait to see what the 2012 Third year anniversary summary brings! Cheers!


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Seeing California Chardonnay in a New Light: #Chardonnay Day Greenhouse Tasting, Attendees Top Picks. Up Next – Aug 18 Pinot Day

May 26th was international #Chardonnay day, organized by wine social media entity  Rick Bakas. I am a believer in the varietal focused Live tastings, so to support of this, I held a private tasting of selected, 12 distinct producers, showcasing a variety of regions.

The Impact of Social Media Twitter Tastings

Rick did an excellent job covering the results in his article recap. Some highlights:

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  • Reach was over 4 million people.
  • 29 MILLION impressions
  • 12,000 related tweets

So…as a chardonnay producer, why didn’t you take part?

Combating Chardonnay Backlash

As this event drew near, I was observing some murmurs of backlash. One wine writer/blogger whom I respect and consider more knowledgeable than myself, reacted on Twitter by saying “celebrating Chardonnay day was like celebrating McDonalds.” Wow, jaw dropping, how did we get here? Even if you took the opinion that California produces no good chardonnay (somehow out of the thousands of Vintners)….you are writing off this varietal and all of the amazing French, widely varying styles? The Grand Cru white Burgundies? Steely, minerally Chablis? Really?

If there is one thing I stand for as a wine writer, its pursuit of assisting others in their wine education by exposure, and ending some of the inane myths. Calfornia chardonnay has come a long way, as highlighted by Chronicle wine writer Jon Bonne’ in Chardonnay regains respect – now to maintain it.

It’s slightly ironic – a wine writer & evaluator who often expresses support for lesser known varietals, rushing to the aid of Chardonnay? The ‘Rhonehound’ himself battling against the ABC (anything but chardonnay) crowd? The United States Number One white varietal hardly needs my help, right? Don’t get me wrong, I can’t stand vineyards in Europe have ripped out traditional unique varieties to plant this chardonnay.  I scratch my head at very hot regions growing chardonnay, when the vineyard would do so much better with whites intended for warm climates.

But, this reaction, and some of the feet dragging I was also getting from industry friends in supporting the tasting, made me all the more determined to provide some perpective. Much of the ‘ABC’ backlash, in my experience, comes from exposure to only the big California, oaky butter bombs, like the  popular Rombeur chardonnay. This style has earned the term ‘cougar juice’ – its a  valid style, and if you like it, great. But what a shame to write off one of the most diverse white wines there is, just because of one style.

Chardonnay is like a blank canvas, and responds, expresses well the many options available to a winemaker from fermentation vessels (new oak, neutral oak, concrete, stainless), aging vessels (same), primary and secondary fermentation options, climate, ripeness, clone selection and so many other variables. If you like a steely sauvignon blanc, or a modest Rhone white blend, odds are there are styles of Chardonnay you will like.

If you are one of those “real wine drinkers don’t drink white” or “I don’t drink white” …your journey of exploration and awareness has far to go. Once you truly open up the world to white wine and its hundreds of varieties and styles, globally, and its more subtle nuances, your world is forever changed. Never stop trying, tasting, or exploring.

The Producers I Gathered

At first, not knowing how many  I would get for this tasting, I extended offers to friends and producers I liked. As word got out and the day got closer, last minute requests flooded in, and  I had to say no to some, not because I didn’t like the wines, but I had space constraints, keeping the audience to around 80 people, wanted focus, and most importantly, diversity, by region and style. I had originally planned only six producers.

This is the great lineup I ended up:

You can view a more detailed 2 page spreadsheet that attendees received that have more notes on each wine, here on Google Docs.

Event Feedback – A Huge Success

I have been writing and discussing regularly that wine tasting events need to evolve to new formats.  Based on feedback both from attendees and producers, and we may have hit on one here. Since the event was private and went to mostly friends, most of the crowd was very knowledgeable, with a heavy mix of industry.

Feedback was gushing next day. A  PR wine veteran shared they had been reluctant to come and came away with a completely fresh perspective on California chardonnay. Many echoed similar. Producers expressed they were very happy with the very high level of enthusiasm and sincere interest. The greenhouse was abuzz with energy and excitement. It was one of the most lively tastings I had observed in some time. Most of the  photos are courtesy of Damon Mattson Photography – you can see the whole Facebook album here.

We couldn’t have fit any more people inside. I had expected people to come in waves, but for the most part they clustered around the same time. Space got a bit tight, and noise a bit loud, but neither became unmanageable. To accommodate more people – additional space outside the greenhouse, and/or two different times would be needed. I am examining a number of tweaks for the next event.

The Top Picks By Attendees

With 12 producers and 17 wines, not everyone tasted through them all. (Self included.) There were several surprises for me, and some wines I really liked I  had not had before. My personal favorite of the ones I tried was the Donelan 09 Nancie. Twenty four hours of skin contact gave great aromatics and texture, the wine maker Tyler exercises restraint with oak, and produced and elegant, unique expression of Chardonnay. I was pleasantly surprised with the new 2008 Gloria Ferrer. Their still wines are made for food pairings, and thus their Chardonnay is often more robust, but this year had greater balance than previous vintages, and I thought was an excellent value. The Rivino stainless, no malo chard was also a standout. Unoaked chard can sometimes be a bit too bright and austere, but this had excellent round fruit and weight.

I hope to do a review of all the wines, as I only got to about half, and had little time to really focus. Each producer donated a bottle to that effect.

Below is a chart of the attendee picks. I almost hate to publish top picks, as by design, these were all quite different, and feedback from attendees was that it was hard to pick.

For this ‘contest’ attendees picked their top 3. Not everyone voted, (only

about 35% did) and as mentioned, not everyone tasted through all 17 wines poured. I will streamline consumer feedback for the next event with improved handouts, and perhaps may use simple  scores of 1-10.

The chart is simple: it shows the number of votes each wine received as an attendees’ #1, 2 or 3 vote. As you can see, the votes are very spread out, with all wines receiving some votes.

‘Total Score’ is the unweighted total number of votes. The ‘Winner’ was determined by the ‘Weighted Score;’ 3 points for a #1, 2 Points for #2, 1 point for #1. I also highlighted in gray, the top 3 in each ranking.

The Winners

1. kopriva :  No matter how you slice the data kopriva was the favorite of the day. (I have always been a big fan). This wine is a direct opposite of a California cougar juice. The kopriva team were also brilliant to pair it with Hog Island oysters, who’s briny minerality make it shine. Indeed, in bragging about to kopriva to a friend once, she thought it was decent, but a bit plain for her. We then paired it with some oysters, and she fell in love too.

kopriva garnished 22 percent of the #1 picks, as well as the highest #2. Weighted or unweighted, they had the top overall score – bravo!

2. Donelan 09 Nancie chardonnay:  Their inaugural release, inched out a  #2 choice. The 2nd highest weighted score.

3. Hirsch 09 :  The Hirsch 2009 had the 3rd highest weighted score.

From here the numbers quickly clump, again reflect a wide like factor of all the wines. Pine Ridge, Chamisal, Rivino, and Gloria Ferrer also did well.

What’s Next – Pinot Day, August 18th – Taking Applicants

I am a co-host for Ed Thralls of Wine Tonite for the 2nd Annual #PinotSmackdown. Pinot’s from various regions will be compared and people will vote for their favorite region during this live tasting.

As I did with Chardonnay, I will be seeking a certain profile of Pinot. There has been moderate wine press recently by Jon Bonne’, Jancis Robinson and others, discussing Pinot Noir starting to return to its more elegant form. Over the years Pinot has crept up in color and alcohol, over ripened and over extracted, chasing the new World Palate, and trying to lure less knowledgeable drinkers weened on Cabernet, who think there is something wrong with red wine that is light in color.

I am looking for Pinot that is more reflective of the vintage, terroir, and is balanced, with good acidity. If you are a Pinot producer that fits this, and would like to pour, or have someone represent you and pour, please contact me. If I am not familiar with your wine, I may request a sample prior to accepting. Right now we are focused on OR and CA, but I would love Pinot from any region and importer that fits the targeted intent.

I also intend to lead and organize a Rhone varietal tasting this fall, on behalf of the Rhone Rangers.

Next Event – Venue Tweaks

During the event, I thought there were a few glitches and areas of improvement:

Parking: Thanks to last minute unexpected rain, one side of the road was bad for parking, and despite warnings in the email update, AAA pulled out 4 cars! Winter tastings and parking will be a challenge in the winter I will need to address, as both sides of the road become unparkable in wet season.

Temperature: Luckily we had a normal Russian River summer evening and the weather cooled down. That is normally the case, but a summer heat spike out of the norm, could impact our Pinot day tasting.

Twitter Coverage: All in all things came out well, but there is always room for improvement.  I had a lot to do to pull this off and get my place ready, and I ran out of time on a few things I had planned. Technical glitches prevented me from projecting the Twitterfeed. AT&T works poorly on the farm, so I had extended wifi coverage to reach the Greenhouse, but many people were not aware. One producer shared disappointment, they only saw their brand mentioned once. I was so busy, and I think people were so engaged, social media coverage became secondary to face to face interaction. Personally, I only had time to Tweet twice! There is also the challenge that people know the hashtag, secondary hashtag, and your Twitter handle. I will improve signage and communication next time, but people don’t often read details. More check-in help would also be useful.

Wine Sales: I’d like to explore permits so wineries could take orders. Again, the cost must be low. Wineries don’t want to pay table fees, and consumers don’t want to pay high entry fees; so keeping costs low is a part of this. Even just selling a small amount of wine, helps offset the ROI for the winery for the event. (Time, travel, wine.)

Crowd Breakdown: I’d like to perhaps divide the tasting into two times and groups, and perhaps start with a Trade (Retail, restaurant, distribution) and Media Tasting, and then an everyone else. Part of the problem is that despite all the events I host; I haven’t done a good job creating a trade list – something I will need to work on.

Thoughts and Feedback

I’d love any comments, ideas and suggestions. Also if you were one of the 80 attendees or 12 producers pouring, share your thoughts and comments.


Related Articles:

May 26th is International #Chardonnay Day. Here’s how to follow, participate, celebrate

#Chardonnay Day Recap

Wine Tasting Events Must Evolve

2nd Annual Pinot Noir Smackdown – August 18th, 2011

Pinot Noir eyes a new era of restraint

No. 1 No. 2 No. 3 Total Weghted Score
Kopriva 09 Stainless 7 5 3 15 34
Donelan 09 Nancie 4 3 3 10 21
Hirsch 09 Hirsch (Sonoma Coast) 3 4 1 8 18
Pine Ridge 08 Napa 4 2 1 7 17
Chamisal 2010 Central coast 2 2 2 6 12
Jordan 09 RRV 3 2 5 11
Rivino 09 Stainless, Mendocino 2 6 8 10
Gloria Ferrer 08 Carneros 1 2 2 5 9
Windsor Sonoma RRV 2 1 3 8
k. furtado 09 Bien Nacido 1 4 5 7
Rivino 08 Stainless, Mendocino 2 1 3 7
Inspiration 09 RRV 1 1 1 3 6
Hirsch 06 Hirsch (Sonoma Coast) 2 2 6
Chamisal 2008 Estate 2 1 3 5
Old World 08 Sonoma Coast 1 1 2 3
Jordan 08 RRV 2 2 2
Inspiration 08 RRV 2 2 2
Sonoma Coast Vineyards 09 1 1 1

Wine Tasting Events Must Evolve – An Example at the Saturday June 11th Vinify Winery Collective Event in Santa Rosa

I have been writing and vocalizing regularly these last few months that Wine Tasting events are going through an evolution. With more and more wineries and associations holding events, organizers are seeking ways to stand out and be unique. This is especially true for the 'walk around' tasting format where many producers are under one roof pouring for consumers walking around, such as the many Fort Mason events.

The Evolution of Wine Tasting Events

As someone who attends and covers a wide range of events, both as media and consumer, and who organizes many as well, I feel there are two themes that must emerge:

Smaller, more focused tastings:

The lines of people 4 deep waving their glasses like baby birds demanding food begats little in my opinion. As a consumer (or worse, Media) it means that there is no chance for meaningful dialog with the producer. (Unless you are one of the mannerless that hog the table irregardless.)

As a producer, you may think its great to pour for this many people, but you aren't leaving an impression with many, but simply doling out 'juice'.  More is not always better, there needs to be a balance. Being able to successfully target enthusiastic, interested consumers, eager to learn and experience,  instead of just party goers, is a key part of success as well.

A chance to buy, right away, a wine the consumer likes:

Evolutions in handheld and mobile Point of Sale systems (POS) are enabling this, and doing well at events like the San Francisco Vintners Market, the upcoming Taste of Mendocino and more. Many wineries are very small, have limited production and sales distribution. Paying for shipping is a proven barrier to consumer sales. If I loved a taste of something I tried, especially from a remote winery, why NOT buy it then and there. Its only logical.

As a new Board member of the Rhone Rangers, I keenly set my sights on this enabler. The usual challenge and expense of ABC licenses add expense & paperwork, but this evolution is coming, and is beneficial to the local artisan and the economy.

Many consumers are not aware, but these events are expensive, especially for a small winery. They carry the cost of table fees, travel, lodging, and the many bottles of wine they pour. If a winery can sell enough wine to cover their costs, that makes the ROI much

more palatable, instead of tryi

ng to justify only the 'soft' benefits of pouring my wine to new consumers. If they can actually make some money – bingo! After all, winemaking isn't a non profit venture, although it can sometime feels like it!

Voila – The Vinify Wine Collective Tasting

This Saturday, Vinify Wine Services, a custom crush facility located in Santa Rosa that houses boutique winemakers  from Sonoma County is offering a unique event. Their member wineries, who produce wines from highly acclaimed vineyards all over the North Coast , representing over 12 varietals and 40+ finished wines, will be holding a special tasting, that exemplifies what I just discussed.

These are small, artisan producers, many of whom have no tasting room and limited distribution. At this event, not only can you taste their wines, but you can walk out the door (after you pay) with your favorites.  Some of these are culty producers with waiting lists, others are new emerging stars.

$25 lets you experience these wines, and take home a Riedel Burgundy glass. A variety of cheese & other nibbles will also be available. I attended this event last year, and was impressed, look forward this tasting with great anticipation. Click here for more information, and tickets. Space is limited.  See you there!

Producers Include:

  • Baker Lane
  • Bjornstad Cellars
  • Lattanzio Winery
  • Sojourn Cellars
  • Westerhold Family Vineyards
  • Calluna Vineyard
  • Jemrose Vineyard
  • Barbed Oak Vineyards
  • Argot Wines
  • Desmond Wines
  • Frostwatch Vineyard and Winery
  • Olson Ogden Wines
  • Gracianna Winery
  • Vaughn Duffy Wines
  • Audelssa Estate Winery
  • Wren Hop Vineyards & Winery
  • Super Sonoman Wines
  • Kanzler Vineyards

Related articles:

Mendocino Wine Region – My Growing Love Affair & Weekend Tour; Taste of Mendocino June 13th, A Fresh Unique Format


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The North Sonoma Wine Road launches their iPhone App: Review &amp;amp; User Tutorial

I have repeatedly given kudos to the Wine Road organization – in my opinion one of the leaders in Wine AVA marketing, innovation, and social media integration. Despite the economic downturn, their events continue to sell out and show year over year growth, no small feat in these last few years. Beth Costa, the Executive Director embraces tools and media, old and new, giving their 190 members a voice that is consistently heard.

The Vision of the App – More Timely, Updated Information in the Hands of Consumers

Launching an AVA (region based) wine app isn't new.  But bleeding edge isn't always leading edge and early release of an app that has minimal value in today's crowded world of iPhone apps means you risk losing attention after a poor first impression. The Wine Road app is a great example of 'measure twice, cut once.' Premature launch can be the death of a product or concept.

Beth said she is thrilled to finally have this option to tell guests about when they are planning to visit the Wine Road.

Historically we have been known for our printed winery map, but in the past few years more and more travelers rely on their phone for directions and information. We are also seeing more last minute travelers, who don’t have time to order a map in advance. We needed to address the changing needs of our guests and this app  hit it right on the head. The Twitter feed is also a great way for folks to join in the conversation with all of our winery and lodging members and I know customers are going to appreciate our Wine 101.

Are you an Android user? Not to worry, Beth  confirmed that a droid version is in the works!

Getting It Right

This app gets it right in a several key functional themes.

First – much of the reference information is available without Internet access. This is critical as Internet access, via phone or WiFi, is not assured when in many wine regions, and Wine Road has its dead pockets, just like any other.  (Although I can't encourage wineries enough to put WiFi in their tasting rooms.) North Sonoma is full of small, non palace wineries, off the beaten track.

A online only map to your next location,or a directory, isn't a lot of good if you don't have 3G access on your phone. Yes, even Verizon has pockets of spotty coverage.

This core benefit isn't  by accident, the developer is Darwin 3D, the brilliant husband and wife team who have designed apps for Hospice du Rhone and Paso Robles to name a few. The former being the best based event app I have used, the latter representative of a wine region who has a fair number of wineries who also have no 3G coverage.

Sorting and filtering is a another key feature. In the first release you can tell the app to filter by the 5 'regions' in the Wine Road maps. (Russian River, Dry Creek, etc.) Thus you can tell the app to only show you the venues in say, Healdsburg.  In the second phase, due shortly additional criteria will allow for very specific information filtering, such as varietal, picnic areas, tours and more.

Mapping – Online & Offline

When you open the app, it immediately wants to know your geographic location, and requests permission. This allows the app to hone in on wineries close to you. You can of course over ride this, and choose between maps one of two ways: (1) Google based maps or (2) Wine Road Maps (offline) by clicking the 3rd button 'Maps.'

Google Maps

This can actually be used if offline, but it's best functionality is when connected. Like many iPhone apps, you can 'pinch' with two fingers to zoom in and out. In my opinion the best 'wired' mapping integration comes from clicking the second button 'Wineries' then “Distance' and then a list, in order of distance from you, is displayed. You can then click a winery and see all its details. Then you can click on its address, and go to the Google Maps app, which will give you turn by turn driving directions. (Note, do not drive and do this. Its obviously not safe, and if witnessed by the law, comes with a big fine, even at a stop light.)order diflucan

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Key iPhone app direction tip: If the list of wineries by location close to you is wrong, your iPhone needs a map 'nudge'. This happens frequently in my experience with any location based app. To fix it, launch the Mapss app that came  pre-installed, and let it triangulate your location. If THAT needs a nudge, click the tiny arrow in the lower left of screen.

Offline Wine Road Maps

If you touch 'Mapss' then 'Wine Road Maps' you now have the ability to view the same maps as on the Wine Road website and printed map, with the very latest updates and new members. It starts with the overall view, which is good only for reference. Too see wineries, you left and right scroll, and choose between the various sub maps like Dry Creek, Russian River, Healdsburg. You can then pinch to zoom in and out as desired.


The last button of the app, Settings, allows you to filter wineries, restaurants and lodging by the 5 Wine Road sub regions. Simple touch which ones you want in or out, and thats all you will see. Very useful to unclutter the app and just focus in on where you are. As mentioned earlier, the next release will expand upon this theme greatly.

Other Key Features

If you start at the home page of the app, you can see a number of features.  Some, (the Buy Tickets, Book a Room, and WineRoadWine101 buttons) launch to external website. Others are completely integrated such as Lodging, which like wineries supports and lists lodging by distance and region; and Concierge, which does the same for restaurants. There is some basic Twitter integration in Phase 1 (you must first authenticate the app) with more coming in Phase 2 and beyond.

Phase Two of the App, and Shiny New Wine Road Website – Coming Soon

Targeted for mid July the Wine Road is gearing up for a major new website update. Substantial effort has gone into redesign to clean up the look of the new site and really focus on the pages that  customers use frequently: events, maps and the videos.

One of the new features will be a “Wine Road on the Road” link where wineries will be able to post all of the special tastings they are participating in throughout the country. If you live in Phoenix and can’t get to here, you can see who will be pouring in YOUR area.

The site will offer an expanded photo gallery, more videos and every member will have links to their Facebook and Twitter accounts. Wine Road also wanted to make it as easy as possible for visitors to share any and all pages with their friends, so they have  included “share this” buttons on most pages, and have updated to Google maps.

Other useful features like lists of new wine releases and an easy to use “book a room” feature with Wine Road lodging members.

iPhone App Phase Two

The new web site release then triggers Phase 2 of the iPhone app which will offer more search features for the

wineries, such as varietals, tours, wineries with picnic areas, and their tasting fee structure. Annual event information streamlined along with their full event calendar and a small version of our photo gallery… so you can see what you are missing, if you’re not here along the Wine Road. New members, events, release etc will be updated in real time –  every time they update the website, it will automatically update the information on the app!

Download the App  – Its Free – and Give it a Whirl

You can search in the iTunes store for Wine Road or simply click here. Don't forget these work on iPad and iPod Touch as well!

I am pleased to have been able to personally help with its progress and criteria. Wine Road Executive Director, Beth Costa reached out to me for input for suggestions and design criteria, knowing my technology background, combined with my social media and marketing integration focus. The Wine Road and its members are dear to my heart, and after using too many Wine apps that didn't hit the mark, I was happy to assist. I think the end result is excellent, and Phase 2, only weeks away, even better.

Please feel free to post comments, questions, and suggestions here.  Thanks for reading – and if you find the article useful, take a second to share it with your Facebook and Twitter friends, cheers!


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Observations of Wine Road Barrel Tasting Week One; Suggestions & Ticket Contest for Week Two

Week One of Wine Road Barrel Tasting was a big success, based my observations and talking with a fair number of wineries. This organization continues to amaze me with what does with transformation of industry events. Spoiler alert – read all the way through this – we are giving away 3 pairs of passes for Weekend Two!

Anticipation, and Highest Read Post Ever

There was some level of anticipation  – would the negative perception of this as a drunk-fest persist? Would the actions being taken by the Wine Road have any impact?  Or would it be a big success and continue its gradual transformation of a serious event focused on futures. Read on….

To my surprise, my midweek article ‘My thoughts on Wine Road Barrel Tasting’ was a runaway success.  I do a lot of these types of articles and contests, and they typically get some response and hits, but nothing spectacular. This post got 20+ comments, including after the contest was over. People wrote way more than normal.

This article is now #1 rank, surpassing my prized ‘Shipping Included’ – the Future of Direct to Consumer?’ which was a featured blog and #2 read by (and still ranks #4 read in the last 30 days!) as well as my article ‘A New Beginning & Old World Renaissance? ‘ which until recently had ranked #1.

Yet this post jumped over them all, and had little  to do with the contest – I give away tickets, often more pricey, all the time.

How would it all pan out? Ticket sales were a record high, more wineries than ever were offering future sales, and consumers seemed excited, and not focused on partying. But one never knows until showtime.

Observations and Interviews

I went out on Friday afternoon and Saturday, and monitored the Twitter #WRBT hashtag heavily on Sunday. I spoke to many winery operations personally, as well as Facebook and Twitter updates.

Here were the general trends:

Friday: Traffic and sales were much higher than many wineries expected, especially new participants. I actually expected this a bit, at least the sales part. People going on Friday are taking a day off, hoping to avoid the crowds and are serious wine buyers. Wineries reported greater than expected sales, both of finished wines and futures. Most I talked too were very pleased.

Saturday: The Weather held out and people were out in droves. By mid afternoon people were reporting Healdsburg and Dry Creek to be extremely crowded with tons of cars, busses and people. This is normal, see my suggestions for itenary planning a bit later. Most wineries reported lower sales than Friday, but were pleased, and year over year results seemed good. I made it back to Russian River Valley for the afternoon to avoid the masses. Crowds were good at all wineries, but not so much to impact my experience in any way.

Sunday: It did rain as predicted, and the impact seemed to be mixed. Russian River Valley wineries again seemed pleased. Some new participants had expected Sunday to be the busiest day, but my observation for many 2 day events is that Sunday is typically slower, and for most this panned out. Several Healdsburg and Dry Creek wineries were complaining on Twitter about lack of people, and had the time to be scouring for people to invite. Smaller RRV wineries still seemed quite pleased with people and sales. A very large winery did report sales about as a regular weekend, but agreed to the possible merits of exposure and the difference this event might be for small versus a large national brand.

Consumers Feedback

Consumer notes on the blog post and Wine Road Facebook page were ecstatic and mirrored what wineries reported. Many great comments including this one that I loved from Jason Klafter:

Barrel tasting is the main wine tasting event my wife and I attend. We have been going for about 5 years now. Each year it gets better and better and I love all the things I have learned and still learning. Our group has evolved to about 12-15 so we had stuck to the bigger wineries. Last weekend was an absolute awesome time. We found some smaller wineries that would accommodate our group and finally made my first “future” purchase.

Money has been tight over the past few years so buying a future case of one wine had never been really option. Like many, we would buy a bottle or two from different places. I’m so excited to have gone to Old World and they allowed a future mixed case which was perfect for my wife and I, as she is not a big red drinker. So I order a mix and can’t wait to pick it up when it’s ready. For our group, This year was had the most amount of futures that were ordered. We ordered 12-15 cases of futures and took home close to another 7 between us all!!!!

Can’t wait to go next weekend with a small group of 4!!! Finally going to hit up all the wineries we haven’t been able to go to.

Love it! And Kudos to you Jason, and your friends, for your support and openness.

My Prediction for Next Week:

Being the second weekend, traffic should dip some, but similar patterns predicted.  Friday will be less busy than previous Friday, but again be a good sales day to serious buyers and enthusiasts, Saturday a good traffic day but more looky-loos, and Sunday slower but decent sales. No rain is forecasted for all weekend, so that should help. Let’s hope too many people didn’t give up wine for Lent. (If you spit it doesn’t count.)

I want to add a quick comment about buses. I got an email from a reader who was perhaps offended (they won’t reply) about my previous article and comments on people drinking in buses. I by no means meant to imply that all people on buses are drinking on the bus. I heard from a number that, like this person, come from a remote location, and are serious buyers. If any are offended by that implication, my apologies. Its broadcast everywhere that buses aren’t welcome at many wineries  – that’s more from a lack of ability of a tiny winery being able to handle 30 extra people at once. Kudos to a number of buses I heard call in to ask permission, and were usually accommodated because it was scheduled. That’s far superior to the other tactic, ‘hide’ around the corner, unload on foot.

My Visits, Strategy Suggestions

I get asked a lot where I plan to attend. I typically don’t reveal that for a number of reasons. I try and visit new members, places I haven’t been, with a mix of the wine styles I prefer, and some old favorites thrown in to balance. This weekend I intend to go Friday afternoon, and hopefully both Saturday and Sunday. I am out of space and time here, so I will summate my two weekends of visits in a future post.

My strategy tip for the Wine Enthusiast: Hit busy areas like Healdsburg, Dry Creek, and bigger name wineries on Friday, or start of the day Saturday, or possibly Sunday. Use your Wine Road map – there are lots of clusters of wineries in less traveled Alexander and Russian River Valley – more then enough to fill up an afternoon, and while a tiny bit further apart, less people and less traffic. Driving a mile between stops may save you hours.

My Suggestions to Wineries

With only one exception, I was very impressed with the service, attitude, and experience at each winery. Hats off the hospitality staffs. Two (personal) suggestions for this or future events.

  • Put out spit cups. Its hard for consumers to spit in a bucket. Even I rather a cup. Kudos to wineries like Sheldon, Windsor Oaks and others, who do. In my opinion, this should be standard practice. People CAN learn this.
  • Food has been de-emphasized by design, and perhaps to a lesser extent cost. Some wineries jumped in with catering on site at a cost with some pretty awesome choices. I had terrific BBQ sliders at Longboard I was happy to pay for. Mateo had food at others. Food trucks are an option. There is nothing wrong with ‘pay to play’ and personally I’d rather eat at the winery.

Finally – The Contest

Thanks for staying with me – now here is your chance to win. Tomorrow night (only 24 hours) we will draw 3 pairs of tickets. To win, tell the Wine Road and I in comments either:

What varietal (wine grape) did you try that is NEW to you, last weekend. Where was it, was it a barrel sample or current release?


What varietal would you like to try, or learn more about this weekend.

Get ready – go!

Cheers, thanks for reading Simple Hedonisms Wine Blog – spread the word!


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‘Shipping Included’ – the Future of Direct to Consumer? An interview with Bonny Doon Vineyard

Randall Grahm

Bonny Doon Vineyard has been an innovative leader in the U.S. wine market for 3 decades. With Randall Grahm at the helm, Bonny Doon will boldly dare to go where no Rhone Ranger has gone before.   In January, they caught my attention as they jumped into new ground with revolutionary changes to their wine club. (I am a member.)

(Note – Simple Hedonisms writes primarily for consumers, but with an increase in demand recently for marketing consulting and input, I will occasionally feature a piece like this for the Industry. I hope my consumer readers will find it insightful as well, and share their feedback.)

The Genesis…

Was Meg Houston Maker, author of Maker’s Table and former executive editor of Palate Press. Meg joined Bonny Doon last September as Director of  Direct to Consumer (DTC) sales. Wasting no time, she applied her Ivy League brilliance to  examine Bonny Doon’s historical direct sales performance, review emerging trends in  DTC, and take their  consumer program down a new path.

Wine Clubs – Friend or Foe

One of my most popular articles in 2010 was “ Wine Clubs – A Review of Different Types and Benefits “ focusing on the benefit of Wine Clubs for the

Meg Houston Maker

Meg Houston Maker

consumer. For wineries, a wine club can represent a significant opportunity  in normalizing cash flow and  revenues; it helps to wake up each quarter knowing  ‘X’ percentage of sales are in the bag. (In my ‘other industry’ we call this backlog.) Wine clubs can also represent a high human touch and labor factor, but since they are sold DTC, carry a higher profit margin than distribution sales, so most wineries view Wine Club sales, and members, as very valuable.

Bonny Doon’s Challenge

Bonny Doon has a large, loyal wine club of over 3,000 members. The company has been managing multiple wine club categories at high labor cost and fulfillment complexity. Each shipment  requires considerable consumer interaction to update shipping addresses, credit card numbers, expiration dates, and member shipment customizations.

Additionally, about forty-five percent of members received 2 bottles of wine 6 times per year, and paid $14.25 per shipment for UPS charges. This meant that customers were paying about $86 per year to have a case of wine shipped to them—even though Bonny Doon was subsidizing part of these shipping costs.  (Shipping costs vary widely by state.)

Meg’s goal was to move more wine in the direct channel. To do so, part of the strategy was to encourage members to take more wine per shipment, fewer times per year. Through number crunching and detailed analysis, it became clear that simply sending more bottles per wine club shipment four times per year rather than six would lower the total shipping costs to club members while also reducing the effort needed to process the shipments.  It would also be greener: this change alone meant 31% fewer shipments per year, a substantial carbon savings.

One possible consumer objection to larger shipments, especially in tight times, is  that smaller shipments allow the consumer’s cash payout to be more spread out.  Could the perceived negative of larger shipments be  addressed by capitalizing on people’s general abhorrence of shipping costs?  When Bonny Doon has run ‘shipping included’ offers for orders over a certain dollar threshold—$99 or $129, for example—they see a significant jump in large orders.

Shipping Included, Explained

What does “shipping included” really mean? Free shipping? A hidden cost buried in?  Unfortunately, consumers often think the latter.  So why do wineries use this term? The good people at the ABC , protecting us from harm’s way,  do not allow wineries to say ‘free shipping.’ (Some businesses still do, but that’s technically not allowed and can lead to trouble.) “Shipping included” almost always means free.  But people aren’t sure, which is why you may also see offers like “shipping for $1.”)

Back to Bonny Doon Wine Club & Numbers Analysis

Through detailed analysis, Meg realized that fully subsidizing shipping cost to wine club members might be the answer to shipping more wine in fewer shipments, increasing the volume of wine sent to wine club members and making it easier  to sell the club to new members in the tasting room, online, and at events. And the consumer would win by paying less overall per bottle.

But what about profits? Bonny Doon already has consumer friendly pricing (see my Clos du Gilroy review) and they have to make a profit. Clearly net margins (profits) per transaction would be lower with a higher shipping subsidy. But would net margin dollars, be higher, if overall more bottles of wine were moved to offset the lower transaction margins?

The Math

Lets look at some sample math. (These numbers are my own invention for illustration purposes.)

  • Let’s assume a wine club shipment of 6,000 bottles at $20 a bottle with a 30% margin.
    • This shipment would yield $36,000 profit.
  • Now let’s assume a shipment of 10,000 at $20 a bottle and a 23% margin.
    • This would equal $46,000 net profit—in other words, a lower margin per sale, but a net overall increase in margin dollars.

Now that the onus is on BDV to carry shipping costs, they’re exploring an alternative shipping company to save costs, too, and increase consumer satisfaction.

Results To Date

How has it worked?  So far – wonderfully.  BDV launched a massive communications effort in January to roll out the new shipping-included offer to all existing club members. A key goal was to get those who currently receive 2 bottles six times per year to take 4 bottles four times per year; any who did would pay no shipping fees. The result: Ninety percent of those 2-bottle, six times per year members have agreed to step up to 4 bottles, four times per year.  It’s kind of a no brainer, really, for most. They buy more wine, but this is almost completely offset by the savings of $86 in shipping costs. The net result is that for about $25 more dollars per year, they get four additional bottles of wine.

There are also other inherent benefits of consumers drinking your wine more often: they become brand ambassadors, share the wine with friends, cellar some for later, etc. Broadened impressions and consumer awareness also leads to an increased chance of re-orders, especially when reinforced by other shipping specials, like no-cost shipping for orders over $99.

Why buy plonk wine at Safeway, when for $102 (at the 15% discounted member price of $12.75 per bottle), you can have 8 bottles of Clos du Gilroy Grenache sent to you without a shipping fee? Seriously, consumers, think about it.

Additionally Tasting Room conversions are up significantly since the new club structure was introduced in January.  People are responding well to paying no shipping. I can personally relate. I buy a lot of wine, and have more wine clubs than I should, and paying for shipping is one of my largest mental barriers to buying wine. If I can’t will-call, or if a club threatens me with shipping charges 30 days after release, I don’t join, or I drop the club.

As another reflection of their love for members, no one is being left behind; club members unwilling to convert are allowed to stay status quo, even though it adds complexity.


As wineries look to grow sales, especially Direct To Consumer, which has been the 2010 mantra, “shipping included” represents a significant shift and potentially positive impact.  For those willing to adopt, it can represent a win both for the consumer and the winery. My hat’s off (and my $$ in wallet) to Bonny Doon for continuing to forge new paths, staying focused on a positive consumer experience, and of course, for making great wines.


Thanks for reading! I’d love comments and feedback from both consumers as a Wine Club member, and from Wineries as well.viagra in canada

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