Monthly Archives: June 2011

Spring cleaning

It’s not that T. S. Eliot was wrong. The culprit is likely global warming and how it has wreaked havoc on climate patterns around the world. Suffice it to say that, at least for Your West Coast Oenophile, May is now officially the cruelest month.

I have been assiduously developing Sostevinobile for over 30 months now, not only financing it out of my own pocket, but forgoing (not necessarily by choice) almost any personal income in the process. In turn, this situation has raised quite a number of challenges on several fronts, and in order to address these, I have had to set aside much of my responsibilities for creating our wine program and maintaining this exhaustive blog over the past four weeks. My backlog of tasting notes is enormous, and while I can feebly try to apologize to those for whose events I owe detailed chronicles, I must still give all somewhat short shrift here if I ever hope to bring things up to date. 
Of course, if I’d ever learned the art of succinct composition, I might not be in the midst of this dilemma in the first place. Oh well, let me give it a whirl:

The 10th Annual Wine Industry Conference: Sometimes, I attend function that—gasp!—does not even include a tasting component, but nonetheless offers great portent for the wineries with which Sostevinobile will be dealing. And so I managed to drag myself out of bed, just as the sun was rising, and lumber up to the familiar settings of the Hyatt Vineyard Creek in Santa Rosa for the all-morning session. Growers, winemakers, investment bankers, journalists, and assorted trade and media folks filled the conference room, as two very distinct panels addressed the state of the wine industry in 2011, seen from their particular vantage.

The first session spoke to the need for the wine industry to engage its newest consumer base with social media. Granted, this is an area where I hold tremendous skepticism, for not only is the convivial and sensory nature of wine the diametric opposite of this phenomenon, much of my impetus for starting Sostevinobile stems from a desire to extricate myself from the vicissitudes of content creation (professionally, I’ve written 60+ Websites from top to bottom) and online marketing, as well as the emotional placebos derived from Facebook friends, Twitter followers, etc. Still, the four panelists: Bill Leigon of Hahn Family Wines, Larry Dutra from the Adams Wine Group (owners of White Cottage and Adler Fels), Ron Denner, whose Denner Vineyards markets almost exclusively through their Krewe Comus Club, and Jordan’s Lisa Mattson all extolled the potential these new media offer for engaging customers to interact with not only their wine but the entire winery experience, while retaining their loyalty through instant feedback and personalized communications. Despite my lingering ambivalence, points well taken.

Following the break, a sextet of major players in winery Mergers & Acquisitions took the stage; having practiced in this area throughout the 1980s, I held keen interest in their observations. This blue chip panel included Mario Zepponi from his eponymous Zepponi & Company, which last year had brokered the acquisitions of Chalk Hill, Black Stallion, and Four Vines; Bill Foley, whose assemblage of the burgeoning Foley Family Wines conglomerate, earned him the 2010 Man of the Year Wine Star Award from Wine Enthusiast Magazine; Dan Leese of V2 Wine Group that evolved out of Red Truck following Fred Franzia’s predation; Vincraft’s Peter Scott, the current owners of Kosta Browne; megamarketer Peter Byck from Winery Exchange; and Stewart Resnick, whose environmentally-untenable Fiji Water had recently acquired prominent green proponent Justin from Paso Robles. Their uniformly optimistic observations focused on how the devolution of large, publicly-held enterprises like Foster’s and Diageo had given enabled the ascendancy of private holdings like Foley, Purple Wine, and Precept, which have been responsible for most acquisitions of premium brands over the past few years.

Many attendees, however, found this session somewhat disingenuous. Forecasts of future acquisitions of numerous properties from both Foster’s and Ascentia became far less prescient with the announcement, just two hours after the conference, of the sale of Buena Vista to Boisset Family Estates and Gary Farrell to panelist Vincraft. Conspicuously absent from the discussion, too, was Foley Family Wines’ acquiring a major stake in contract winery Crushpad, which they subsequently relocated to their now underutilized Sebastiani plant less than a year since Crushpad had built facilities at Premier Pacific’s property at the bae of Silverado Trail.

In the end, I suppose the 10th Annual Wine Industry Conference offered no earth-shattering revelations, but at least I did get an honest insight into what goes on in the world before 9 AM.

In my previous post, I lamented the attrition in attendance at Rhône Rangers and queried whether this tasting would be able to continue. I’ve attended several other events in San Francisco since, and have grown even more disconcerted about their diminishing popularity, with both the public and the trade. Moreover, fewer and fewer wineries are pouring at these gatherings—not a good portent, to be sure.

Whether this downturn is a phenomenon of the economy or a reflection of diminished interest in wine—at least on the local front—I can only conjecture. I do think, however, that the relatively paltry turnout for the 2011 Passport to Cabernet can be attributed to the awkward time slot the California Cabernet Society scheduled at the Bently Reserve; not many non-professional œnophiles can afford to spend 3:30-5:30 sipping wine on a Monday afternoon. Or did the Society only want to attract stock brokers and people who work East Coast hours?

The other issue that may have precipitated the low turnout was the bracket of Cabernet being poured. Not that there weren’t some truly excellent wines on hand (I will cover my finds in my subsequent entry); it’s just that none of the über-ultra-premium marquee producers were on hand—no Dalle Valle, no Dana Estates, no Colgin, etc. Any other varietal, even Pinot Noir, that featured a distinct selection of wines upwards of $150, would likely have attendees spilling out into the street, but (rightly or wrongly), without the draw of California’s corollary to Bordeaux’ Premier Cru châteaux, selling out a tasting, particularly during white collar business hours, will remain a formidable challenge.

At least the 7th Annual PINKOUT!SF that RAP (Rosé Avengers and Producers) staged at Butterfly restaurant held its public tasting during conventional Happy Hour. Trade attendees were told that this portion of the event had sold out, and perhaps it had—we were not permitted to attend, and given the small space in which this event was held, reaching capacity ought not have been too difficult.

unlike in years past, there really was no purpose this time in lingering
for the evening session. I actually visited every table this afternoon
and sampled all the wines poured, with nearly an hour to spare
. And therein lies the rub. Only 28 wineries attended this tasting, and all but seven brought but a single wine to sample. Which would be fine, except that it signified a notable decline in participation from last year’s gathering, as well as an attenuation of the types of rosé being crafted here.

In any case, as with the California Cabernet Society, I can only hazard a guess what brought about the attrition at this year’s PINKOUT!SF. One would hope the culprit to be the lingering malaise of the economy, not public disenchantment with the wine itself, though weakening economic conditions would be a harbinger of something equally as ominous. In contrast, the third staging of the SF Vintner’s Market ostensibly showed no signs of contraction, at least in terms of winery participation and public attendance. Unlike other tastings, this event is geared to enable consumers to buy a variety of wines directly from the wineries, certainly something that offered great benefit, in particular, to the numerous boutique producers on hand, vying for recognition in the marketplace.

Whether there actually was a significant amount of wines being purchased was another story. Informally, I heard a number of the vintners grumbling that the price of a ticket virtually precluded many of the predominantly under-35 attendees from spending anything else here, and, at least on Saturday, the event took on an atmosphere more like the Union Street Fair than a focused wine assemblage. Then again, ardent wine enthusiasts like myself often forget that anything that increases wine’s exposure ultimately can only help broaden its acceptance and popularity; even if only 10% of this party crowd developed new insights into the abundance and quality of wine produced here, such events will be worth their while.

Obviously, I have a vested interest in seeing these large-scale wine tastings succeed, and it is my fervent hope that they will soon return to the robust attendance and participation they enjoyed at their peak not too many years ago. I have always believed that, the more exposure to and consumption of quality wine we have, the better off all of us—not just in the wine industry but in whole as a society—will be.

As I mentioned at the outset of this post, this past May proved the most challenging month I’ve faced in keeping the vision of Sostevinobile
alive. And while I regret how much I have had to neglect my blog in
favor of attending to the fiscal demands of this venture, unanticipated benefits have been borne from this process, including a number of wine-related
projects. I won’t bore my readership with a logistic analysis of a new
proposed wine distribution service in which we have been asked to
participate, but we also now have under development a second wine venture slated for a different locale and demographic in San Francisco. Most assuredly this bare-bones wine bar operations is not intended as a replacement for Sostevinobile (which I’ve now brought strongly back on track),
nor a competitor, but a decidedly unpretentious contrast to the more expansive operations we
have been developing these past 2½ years. Both operations remain
firmly focused on the sustainably-grown wines of the West Coast, and I
am sure that many of our winery friends will want to participate in
this egalitarian version of a European weinerei

Look for further announcements in future postings here on the launch of Comunale