Friday, November 30, 2007
"SWF looking for someone 25-30 who drinks Pinot between 13.9-14.9% alcohol, a TA of at least 6.3 and no more than 40% new FO. I love mine unfiltered, so do not reply unless you like a little grit in your wine! Also, the bigger the cellar the better."
Thursday, November 29, 2007
I just read a very interesting article (by freelancer Tim Teichgraeber, Decanter Magazine) that proclaims "Wine gains on beer as US youth drink of choice." According to a Nielson study, beer drinking among the 21-30 age group is decreasing and wine and spirits consumption increasing (by purchases). Millenials are increasingly turning to wine and spirits as their drink of choice.
Being a member of this age group, all I can say is "Old news."
I may be biased because I'm in the wine industry, but I have a lot of friends who aren't, and wine is still their nightly beverage. If they're going to have one glass of wine with dinner, or one beer with dinner, wine is the winner most of the time. Why? Perhaps because of it's image as being more food-friendly, or their familiarity with the beverage (many of our parents were wine drinkers, so wine isn't intimidating). I'm sure there are a myriad of other explanations, but the results of this study don't surprise me at all.
Case-in-point, when my fiance and I -- both proud Millenials -- go to a certain brewery in downtown Santa Rosa, we often order a bottle of J sparkling wine instead of beer (they have a good price on it, can you blame us?). Not only do people not look at us like we're freaks, but our friends don't feel ashamed to join in with glasses, and we've even seen people down the bar order a bottle shortly after ours arrives.
It's also not surprising to me that the study says that Millenials 'frequently seek new tastes and are willing to pay a premium for alcoholic beverages.' For the most part, we know the difference between good wine and bad wine and are willing to pay for something that doesn't taste like pondwater. (Not to say there aren't some pricey bottles out there that taste like pondwater too.) As for looking for new and different tastes: unfortunately, in today's grocery stores, some of the best QPRs (quality-price ratios) are found in the imported or obscure varietals sections.
All I can say is that I'm glad the wine industry is finally realizing the importance of the next wine-drinking generation. And I'm sorry it's all because of the money they are (and will) bring in. I've gotten some pretty terrible treatment at tasting rooms because of my age, and that's one thing we vowed never to do to our customers. Come one, come all. Even if we do have to card you.
Monday, November 26, 2007
Once we finally have our wine label, that’s when the real work starts. Everything you see on a label – from the government warning to the alcohol percentage and use of the word “estate” – is regulated down to the millimeters in size the type must be. For example, it's even specified that the words “GOVERNMENT WARNING” must be in capital letters. Even the winery address you put on the back label (which is the front label to the government – long explanation) has a set format and type size. It’s an amazingly complicated piece of paper. And that’s just designing it.
Once you’re finished with design, you have to send the label for approval with the TTB – the government arm that oversees the alcohol business. If all of the above regulations aren’t met, they send it back for revisions. They can also reject the label because of design. It isn’t unheard of for a label with “racy content” to be rejected. (I don’t really think we’ll have that problem as there's really nothing about our family that screams “tastefully drawn nudes.”)
Anyway, once your label is approved, it must be sent to the printer to be put onto rolls – most wine labels are essentially a sticker now. Then, they have to go to your bottling line, where you can finally apply them to the bottle. And now that your wine is labeled and ready to sell, it’s also taxable. (Read: cut several checks to several agencies.)
I did hear a fellow wine industry colleague utter a saying that seems appropriate after working through processes like this. It went something like: “I swear this industry is way too confusing. You’d think we were selling illegal drugs or baby car seats, not fermented grapes in a glass container. –expletive—.”
Wednesday, November 21, 2007
It was 22 degrees here last night. The neighbor ran his frost protection sprinklers for his late-harvest Gewurztraminer all night. (Somehow, when you coat the vines in water, the process of freezing water actually creates heat and protects the grapes. Go figure.) Anyway, lucky for us, we can hear his pump from our house. Sounds like a big-rig's idling right outside the bedroom window. MMMM.... peaceful. Looking forward to next spring's frost season.
Monday, November 19, 2007
Most wine consumers don’t understand how large of an investment a wine label is. Many large wine companies spend tens or even hundreds of thousands of dollars to create a label that’s eye-catching, communicates the right ideas and feelings, and that stands out on a store or supermarket shelf. It’s important – I have plenty of friends and family members who choose wines based solely on how the label looks. That tells you something.
With our wine being hand-sold, direct-to-consumer, we’re not worried about prominence on a shelf, but we do want something that encapsulates what our family, our wines, and our business stands for. And the challenge was taking all of this, and boiling it down into few enough words to give the designer. It was an interesting conversation, with a few of the best parts going something like this:
Bill: What about a giant eyeball? You know, looking into the future?
Kristy: Ew, gross. Who wants to drink a wine with a big eye staring at you?
Joe: What about using the number four? It would be easier for all the dyslexic people out there. Plus, it’s kind of gangsta’.
Kristy: I heard there are companies who can do scratch-and-sniff labels. How cool is that?
Nancy: Those always smell like bananas. Do you want your wine label to smell like bananas?
Needless to say, it took us a while to get down to business, but we did come up with some basic ideas:
- The label must represent both the past and the future. It must look like it has a history, without looking too “country.” Our family has a long history on this land, but the entire idea of our winery is that we’re looking to the future, so the challenge is to meld both of those.
- It must be sophisticated enough to adorn high-end Pinot Noir and other small-lots of hand-crafted wines.
- Please, no hunter green, royal blue, or burgundy combined with gold. Make it more interesting than black cursive on a white background. And no farm animals.
Luckily, we chose a great designer: Gerald Reis (www.reisdesign.com). The whole family met with him several times to discuss our vision for the label. Then we brought him to the property and gave him a tour. Armed with our ideas and suggestions, he’s working up a few options and we should have some drafts soon. We’re all pretty excited to see them.
Friday, November 16, 2007
Once thing I've learned is that pretty much everything follows these ground rules when you’re starting a winery:
- Make a decision
- Find out you can’t do it that way
- Try another way
- Find out you can’t do it that way either
- Have a glass of wine and cry a little
- Try again
- Cut someone a check*
Wednesday, November 14, 2007
Moving back home is always interesting. However, in our small valley, when I tell people that I just moved back, they look at me with surprise and what I take to be a little bit of pity. The reason has everything to do with my age: I just turned 26 last month.
Young people don’t tend to hang around here. Practically everyone in their twenties who lives here (a meager handful) has either come from somewhere else, fell in love with the scenery, and will soon leave, or has tried to make a life elsewhere and finds themselves returning home. I guess I’m now the latter.
Because I went away for college and had a successful career outside of the valley, most people don’t understand why I would want to move back. Maybe later in life – perhaps right around retirement, when I’m married with a few grandkids – it might make more sense to return to country life, but surely not now! I remember several freshly credentialed teachers arriving in Anderson Valley when I was in high school, and I also remember that they stayed for their promised year and promptly left. Being single and in your twenties doesn’t really do you well in a small town where it seems most young people have left for jobs or school in other, larger cities.
For me, I’m thrilled with the beginning of my new life here and the idea of our soon-to-be winery. Granted, there are a few things that I miss: Starbucks on a weekend morning, the gourmet grocer literally right down the street, a drug store that you don’t have to drive a half an hour to get to, somewhere (anywhere) to buy clothing and shoes and handbags when a little retail therapy is in need. Even though I have an entire wardrobe of office clothes, a closet full of heels, and a box full of makeup that I virtually never put on anymore, I’d still like to have the occasional excuse to put on a dress and go out for a drink. (Sigh.) And I miss all my twenty-something friends more than all of this – someone to have a drink with matters more than the act of dressing up and actually going out.
Of course there are things that I love about being back home: I’m living in the house I grew up in, which is four times larger and has three times the bathrooms of where I was living before; when I want to see my horses I can just walk out my front door; and I don’t get that shrivelly feeling of working under florescent lights and not seeing daylight for too many hours straight. When I want to go outside, I just go outside. Ah, the glories of being self-employed.
I also enjoy being around my family: my mother, Nancy; my father, Bill; and of course my fiance, Joe, who I had to move to the Central Coast to find and then drug back here. And on the weekends my two brothers often join us. It helps me to remember why I’m here and the entire point of what we’re doing. And that it’s going to be hard, but it’s also going to be a lot of fun.
There are a few things about the wine business that aren’t as enchanting as we all like to think. For starters, the money involved in getting a winery off the ground. Most wine-lovers have heard the phrase “it takes a large fortune to make a small fortune in the wine industry.” Well, we don’t have a fortune, of any kind. So I guess it’s a good thing that our main motivation for building this winery isn’t money (although we all agree that a little more of it would be nice).
My great-grandfather and grandfather moved to Anderson Valley in the early 1940s, during the lumber boom. Times were good in Boonville, and they bought property right outside of town and founded the Charles Lumber Company. In my parents’ home on the property (once my grandparents’ home), they still have black-and-white photographs that show my grandfather and great-grandfather standing next to logs larger than a house, grinning at the work well done. As my father tells it, small mill houses dotted our property, and it was a rough, rowdy time when people’s main occupations were fighting and working.
Charles Lumber Company did well until the lumber boom started to fail. As businesses began to falter and logs went unsold, times were tough for everyone, and the decision was made to shut the mill down and sell it off, piece by piece. Not long after, my grandfather had a heart attack and died. My father was 12.
The good times were over, and, in their place, my family cherished what little we had left: our land. It’s where we lived, where we grew up, and where we returned to. We explored every inch of it as kids, and learned to love the smell of hot dirt and dry grass in the summer, and the winter frost that covered the fields and made the grass crackle beneath our feet. This was my brothers’ and I’s inheritance – what our family left for us. And it was the fear of losing it that made us take a long, hard look at building a winery.
With little industry in a remote valley like ours, my two brothers and I could hardly hope to return here to make a living on top of paying upkeep and property taxes on land we would never sell. Even though the original mill property is now planted to grapes, the income from 15 acres is not enough to support us all. The other option – paying someone to tend the vines and property from afar – would also prove too expensive. And so, this year, I turned to the wine industry that I love to bring me back home again.
My mother, my father, myself, and my fiance (who also worked in the wine industry and must have had no idea what moving to Boonville would actually be like), decided to start a winery. Instead of heading to the bank to ask for a few million dollars to throw up the entire facility in a year, we decided instead to start small and grow slowly, on our terms, until the winery could become the lifeblood that sustains our family as well as the earth beneath us. In 2006, we produced just more than 400 cases of estate Pinot Noir. In 2007, we increased our Pinot production slightly and add a few hundred cases of Sauvignon Blanc. We will continue to do this until we hit our ultimate production goals – who knows how many years it will take, but we must sell out every vintage to survive until that day.
And with these decisions, we now needed a name. We wanted it to mean something, to give a glimpse into who we are and why we’re making wine. Unfortunately, it didn’t occur to us that everything that sounded like a nice winery name was trademarked. And by a corporation large enough to drag us into court for years, even if our name just sounded similar. So, after many glasses of wine (and I mean MANY), and many failed attempts (does anyone read Pomo Indian?) later, we found something that worked: Foursight Wines. It means four generations, looking to the future.
It's still before dawn and we’re all standing impatiently, in the dark, talking a little amongst ourselves and listening to the tractors idle, watching the grass and pieces of vineyard that their headlights cast with light. In our heads we have the master plan: rows 1-15, skip to 35, then work back, then on to the next block. Pick one clone first, then the next, keeping everything separate. Make sure each section of vineyard goes to the right winery, make sure they get the perfect amount of fruit, and make sure the fruit is clean and cool.
As the morning crept in, the crew arrives – women and men, armed with small, plastic bins and curved picking knives. They take their place next to us, ready to begin. Then, when the light is strong enough to see the clusters of grapes hanging among the vines, we rush in.
The next hours of grape harvest are a blur of noise – bins slapping against larger bins as grapes are dumped, the noise of our fingernails against the plastic bins as we grab any leaves or stems that have found their way into the fruit, the idling of the tractors and calls of the workers as they pick. Stanzas of Spanish ballads and “si se puede” call across the vineyard. As we finish one row and move on to the next, we run as fast as we can – it’s a race against the light and heat now. The fruit must be cool when it arrives to the winery. We have to finish before lunch, but we’re shorthanded.
A second, promised crew hasn’t arrived. The crew now working has harvested grapes both in the morning and at night for several days. They’re tired. The morning is wearing on and too much fruit is left on the vines and they know it. We keep calling the vineyard management company for another crew, but no one answers. No doubt they’re in the midst of picking elsewhere.
I speak enough Spanish to understand what’s going on. The women have children at home. They’re all exhausted and we’ve been at it for three hours. We understand and are apologetic as we hand out water and soda. Tensions still rise and complaints began to be voiced as we continue on, bending over the bin after bin of fruit to clean it, picking the grapes and dumping them in the larger boxes behind the tractors. Then the talk of leaving the field begins. A few insults I wish I didn’t understand are lobbed out. It's hard work, and the crew's been doing it for days. It's only understandable that they're tired and ready to stop.
But on the winery side, if this crew leaves it will push the rest of the harvest back, risking that perfect balance of sugar, grape ripeness, acidity and flavors that we now have. We sell to several high-end Pinot Noir producers and, at this time of year, harvest is a delicate dance that ends on a day when you can get a crew to pick the fruit, the winery has the time and space to receive it, and the maturity of the fruit is at the winery’s optimum level. And one of the wineries we’re picking for today is ours. Our winery-to-be. And our optimal ripeness is TODAY.
We keep rallying and crossing our fingers, and finally (thank god) another crew pulls in. They picked farther up the Anderson Valley for a few hours and have now arrived to help. The crew already at work relaxes – they will now be able to leave early and catch a few hours of sleep before beginning again tonight at 8 p.m. We’re all ecstatic. The rest of the morning seems to fall into place – the crew that has arrived is fast. Very fast. We finish harvesting our fruit – the result of an entire year of labor. The fruit as near to perfect as you can get – we can tell from the ripeness of the grapes that the alcohols will be moderate and the flavors will be outstanding. Enough acidity will be in the wine for it to age well, and the wine won’t be too tannic. We played the guessing game perfectly.
As the workers begin to leave and the last bins are rushed to the wineries, we thank the workers, offer them more to drink, and promptly open a beer. It tastes better than I can imagine as we sit there, covered in sticky grape juice and sweat, and talk about the morning’s trials, and what we may be in store for tomorrow, as we will again gather before dawn to relive the entire experience.
I always try to remember that all this crazy activity, all our work and joy, it all starts with a vine – something my parents fell in love with (which ended in 15 acres of Pinot Noir, Sauvignon Blanc and Semillon) and, many years later, I would too. So much goes into a bottle of wine other than the fruit, or even soil, sun and water. It’s HOW you water and when, how closely you know the vines and can come to their aide when they need it, how you prune them back in the winter (which determines the crop for the next several years), and how fast you spring out of bed when frost threatens at 3 a.m. It’s when you pick the grapes and how many crews you’re able to get, how many apologies and encouragements you can hand out when things don’t go perfectly, and how many days in a row you can rise before dawn and do it all over again. This, for better or worse, is the beginning of a winery.