Dispatches from the 2009 Wine Bloggers Conference

Grateful Dead

“Spent a little time on the mountain,
 Spent a little time on the hill,
 Things went down we don’t understand, 
but I think in time we will”
… “New Speedway Boogie” … Words by Robert Hunter; music by Jerry Garcia

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Conferences are conferences are conferences, and it seems that the one-on-one conversations are often where the real ideas Hardy & Ashley at WBC09are exchanged. Discussing ideas and feedback on just what it is that we’re doing, what others are doing or have done will tend to make us all more proficient tomorrow. A lot of citizen wine writers are in factthe twitterai at WBC09 technology geeks.  Really smart technology geeks, like Doug Cook of Able Grape, who is now the director of search at Twitter, or founder organizer Joel Vincent, or Paul Mabray of VinTank, or Evan Cover of Cruvee, or Josh Hermsmeyer, or etc, etc. The Wine Bloggers Conference IQ meter has been off the charts. This active exchange of ideas with so many wicked smart people is really charging my batteries. The take-away is that I wish that more wineries would embrace this democratization of wine information. Oh, not just the social media side of this, but the energy and intelligence inherent in this citizen wine writer movement. I’m also shaking my head in disbelief that more wineries weren’t standing in line to talk to the candidates from the A Really Goode Job promotion. I had the chance at the conference to talk with Frank Gutierrez of Frank Loves Wine and one of the VinTank 4 + . With a nod to Malcom Gladwell’s Frank Gutierrez of Frank Loves Wine‘Blink’, I’ve always been good at recognizing talent in meetings or during interviews, and then in securing this talent. I alway wanted to surround myself with people that are smarter than I am. Have you noticed that your education doesn’t end the day that you get your diploma, that life is a process of observing, learning, and incorporating best practices until you’re boots-up. Frank is someone that I followed through the arcane process of ARGJ. Mostly because he reached out to engage me. Last night I had the chance to talk to Frank about his aspirations and his vision. I came away floored. I’m not prone to intemperate decisions, but if I were a winery in this economy, I would have extended an offer to Frank on-the -spot. So, out there in the winery world, I just want to know is this somebody that you want working for you competitors, or do you want your wine business to be the next success story?

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CIA at Greystone, St Helena, CANapa Valley gets it. They’ve gotten it for quite awhile. The Napa Valley Vintners Association knows how to throw a party, and, at the same time, how to effectively communicate their message. Kudos to Terry Hall, Joel Coleman-Nakai, Kat Corcoran, et al. And special thanks to Paula Kornell. I first met her years ago during mBarry Schuler & Marc Lhormer discussing WBC09y tenure at Disney when visiting the Hans Kornell Winery to meet her Dad, Hans Kornell, one of my all time favorite Napa Valley vintners. Having met Paula as a small child, I’ve followed her career from the early days, through her ascension to the top of the Napa Valley wine industry. I know her dad is somewhere, smiling from ear to ear, a glass of sparkling wine in his hand thinking ‘I did a good job.’ Well, Hans, yes, you did a very good job indeed. What a start to the day. Talk about firepower, from the kick-off talk by Ms Kornell to the engaging and effective Charles Henning, ExecutiveEd Thralls, Rick Bakas, Paul MabrayDirector of the CIA (the original CIA) at Greystone, to how to be a better wine blogger/writer from the source that knows, Jim Gordon, Editor of Wines & Wines. But, please allow me a moment to go WOW!!! Barry Schuler, internet pioneer, owner of Meteor Vineyards and VC icon, and one of the great intellects of our time gave a speech that would likely fill the Moscone Center Herta Peju hosting bloggers at Peju Winery WBC09convention hall auditorium at Macworld . And this was just the start of the day. Back to the shuttles, and off to the real business of wine writing, meeting with the winemakers. It was my luck to have a chance to go to Peju Province Winery and to sit with the co-founder, the lovely Mrs Herta Peju herself. Then off to Spring Mountain Vineyard for what would turn out to be the Napa Valley Cabernet tasting of my lifetime.

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Spring Mt. HouseI’ve been around wine a long time. I’ve attended so many tastings, and thought that I had seen it all. Don’t get me wrong, I am as passionate as ever about wine and the wine business, but how much more new is there? Well, I soon found out, sitting at rounds in the living room of Tuburcio Parrott’s old Victorian, and tasting wines from the mid-90’s and the current or future releases from a list of storied Napa Valley vintners: Jac Cole of SprinThe tasting Panel at Sring Mt, for the Napa Valley cabernet Sauvignon bloggers tasting at WBC09g Mountain, Ted Edwards of Freemark Abbey, Jeffery Stambor of Beaulieu Vineyards, and Paula Kornell of Oakville Ranch Vineyards. Not only did I come away impressed by the overall quality, but by the openness, the frankness and the transparency of the conversation. Yes, times and communications have changed, and they’ve changed for the better. Also, isn’t it about time that we now refer to Sauvignon Blanc, Cabernet Sauvignon and associated varietals as Napa Valley varietals and drop the anachronistic use of the term Bordeaux varietals? Just saying….

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The grand napa Valley tasting at Quintessa for WBC09Recovering from a day of wine tasting in Napa, after a grand tasting at Quintessa that went by in a flash,IMG_0762 and a great dinner with old friends at Franciscan Vineyards hosted by Jay Turnipseed, Aaron Potts, Efrain Barragan, and Cathy Corison, it was back to the Flamingo trenches, and a morning of shared education. Thanks to Tim Lemke, who gave a tutorial on how to monetize blogs, and to Doug Cook, Director of Search at Twitter, who conducted a discussion on just how search actually works. And then of course back to the busses and off to the Russian River Chris Donatiello conducting a bloggers wine tasting at the WBC09and Dry Creek Valleys for more on-site interaction with our sources. I was lucky enough to be invited to C.Donatiello on Westside Road. Chris, Web, Robert and Vanessa get it. Because they get it they’ll be one of the thrivers as the economy rebounds. Oh, and the C.Donatiello Chardonnays and Pinots are fab. Next time you’re in the Healdsburg area, head over and treat yourself to one of our area’s top winery hospitality experiences. And, don’t miss the summer Sunday concerts. Can’t think of a better way to send a day in wine country.

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Tim Lemke at WBC09There is some significant wattage of talented, professional and intellectual firepower residing in the citizen wine blogger community. Most of the resources in this community are just an email, a text message or a phone call away. As a group we’re always looking for ideas, so don’t be afraid to pitch us. Oh, I have the scoop that I promised in my last post: Evan Cover CEO at Cruvee is pairing with Josh Hermsmeyer in development of the winery interface for helpawineryout.com, facilitating the targeting and interaction between wineries and citizenDoug Cook, Twitter Director of Search at WBC09 wine reviewers. More to come as this story fleshes-out. Also, note that there is new media, creative talent out there looking for work. And, not just because they’re looking for work, but because they’re passionate about your (our) business, the wine business. Be counterintuitive and hire the best talent in these tough times to maximize your rise out of the morass, as the economy bounces forward and upward. Adopt and incorporate the appropriate technologies for your wine businesses. Recognize that the game has changed, and we’re all in this with shared responsibility for (re)inventing the future. The bus of wine biz marcom is leaving the station and picking-up speed. Get on-board as soon as you can, or risk being left out of the conversation. Identify and mirror those companies that get it, such as: Hahn, St. Supery, Murphy-Goode, C.Donatiello, Judd’s Hill, Gunlach Bundschu, the NVVA, or Wilson Daniels. Observe, study and then incorporate their best practices into your winery’s marketing/communications operations. Sink or swim, we’re in this together. We do this thing because we must. We are a community driven by passion and talent, and fueled by a burning intellectual curiosity. We are not so different from you. Oh, we may be the early adopters, but the door on the bus is still open. So, come on-board. It’s going to be a fun ride.

Note: Copyright © 2009 Think Wine Marketing® All rights reserved.

Satori in Sonoma

Studs Terkel“We are more and more into communications and less and less into communication” … Studs Terkel

My father instilled in me an innate curiosity about life and people. He taught me that having the right question may be more important than having all the answers. And most importantly he taught me to listen. I’ve always been interested in how people arrived at their career choices. Was it an accidental journey or a planned path that you’re now walking down. Since my life’s work has been in the wine business, I’m for the most part interested in people who have traveled a similar road. My Socratic style was inspired by Studs Terkel and his examination of the average American working stiff. When someone asks, ‘will there be anything else, sir’, I often respond question in question, “what’s the meaning of life?” This always stops the questioner in his/her tracks. A moment of reflection is sometimes given to a substantive response, but for the most part it often devolves into an embarrassed laugh, or worse into some platitude or other. Whenever I have the opportunity to talk with someone during a wine interaction I like to ask about their first memorable wine experience. What’s that? Well, since you’ve asked, I’m more than willing to share my story.

My father, Howard Corcoran was a character, and in the Irish oral tradition told great stories. He graduated as the Valedictorian from Central Catholic High School in Wheeling, West Virginia and then from West Virginia University with a degree in Law. He never sat for the bar, but instead followed his widowed Aunt Margie to Florida, where she was the business manager for the architect Addison Mizner. His aunt had been married to Arthur McConnaughy the founder of Island Creek Coal Company, the genesis company of what is now ConocoPhillips. My great Uncle was killed defending his mine during a strike, and Aunt Margie was Jerome KernleftBreakers Hotel Palm Beach with a then significant income. So off to Palm Beach with Dad to be near her sister Virginia, who’s husband operated the men’s haberdashery at the Breakers Hotel. Dad quickly landed a job for $1/day as a clerk in a brokerage office, and lived on a yacht owned by American composer Jerome Kern, with his roommate Johnny Love. At night Dad and Johnny headed a jazz combo that played during the high season at all the big parties. This was in the middle of prohibition, but the swells weren’t about to do with out their champagne or booze. My Dad and Johnny had a sideline business of also supplying the party favors. The yacht was used to sail over to Bimini to pick-up a load of Cordon Rouge Champagne, Seagrams whiskey, and Kennedy Scotch. And then the boys sold their haul to the social 400 who inhabited Palm Beach for the winter.

My Mom and Dad got married after the end of Prohibition just as the New Deal was helping to drag the economy out of the SCAN0009depression. I came along as the last of five kids towards the end of the famed boomer generation. I grew up listening to these by then romanticized stories, and knew that in some way, some how wine would be part of my life. My parents often had dinner parties, and Sunday meals were always formal sit downs at the long claw and ball foot table in the big dinning room. Wine was often part of these occasions, and we were always allowed to taste the wines and encouraged to share our impressions. Knowing my Dad’s story, I often asked my father’s friends and business associates about the first time that they thought of wine and went wow.

I still ask this question. I ask it of store owners, and clerks. I ask sommeliers, and chefs. I ask university professors, distributor owners and winery entrepreneurs. And everyone has an answer. That moment of enlightenment seems, while always different, to be a memory worth sharing. Although I grew up enjoying wine with my family in the appropriate social situations, my moment of zen came on theCh Pavie Label
Empress Lilly Riverboatbalcony of my Disney office in Florida tasting samples while creating the wine list for the Empress Lilly Riverboat restaurant complex at Lake Buena Vista Village. It was the mid 70’s and I was tasting the 1970 Ch. Pavie, and all of the sudden I got it. This, my moment of sudden enlightenment, was soon followed by a trip to Sonoma County, California. At the end of a long week I was sitting in my rental car on a cloudy, rainy winter day in the parking lot of the Dry Creek General Store sipping on a bottle of Dry Creek Vineyards Zinfandel. The sun finally came out from behind the dense clouds and a focused beam of light hit my car. At that moment, I knew that this was my home… satori in Sonoma.

Andre TchelistcheffThat my story, but what’s yours? I’ve been so fortunate due to the circumstances of my life and career to have asked this question of governors, congressmen,senators and CEO’s. I especially enjoyed asking this question of some of the icons in the wine industry, including Joe Heitz, Hans Kornell, Mike Girgich, Andre Tchelistcheff, Robert Mondavi, Henri Jayer, Jacques SeyssesJim Barrett, Warren Winarski and Jess Jackson. Their stories were all unique, but what great stories they were to hear. One of the best lessons that any successful wine salesperson can learn is to ask the right question and then listen to the answer. So, do your remember the moment when you first drank a wine and thought, wow? I‘m listening.

Note: Copyright © 2009 Think Wine Marketing® All rights reserved.